Molecular MRI enables early and sensitive detection of brain metastases.
Serres S., Soto MS., Hamilton A., McAteer MA., Carbonell WS., Robson MD., Ansorge O., Khrapitchev A., Bristow C., Balathasan L., Weissensteiner T., Anthony DC., Choudhury RP., Muschel RJ., Sibson NR.
Metastasis to the brain is a leading cause of cancer mortality. The current diagnostic method of gadolinium-enhanced MRI is sensitive only to larger tumors, when therapeutic options are limited. Earlier detection of brain metastases is critical for improved treatment. We have developed a targeted MRI contrast agent based on microparticles of iron oxide that enables imaging of endothelial vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1). Our objectives here were to determine whether VCAM-1 is up-regulated on vessels associated with brain metastases, and if so, whether VCAM-1-targeted MRI enables early detection of these tumors. Early up-regulation of cerebrovascular VCAM-1 expression was evident on tumor-associated vessels in two separate murine models of brain metastasis. Metastases were detectable in vivo using VCAM-1-targeted MRI 5 d after induction (<1,000 cells). At clinical imaging resolutions, this finding is likely to translate to detection at tumor volumes two to three orders of magnitude smaller (0.3-3 × 10(5) cells) than those volumes detectable clinically (10(7)-10(8) cells). VCAM-1 expression detected by MRI increased significantly (P < 0.0001) with tumor progression, and tumors showed no gadolinium enhancement. Importantly, expression of VCAM-1 was shown in human brain tissue containing both established metastases and micrometastases. Translation of this approach to the clinic could increase therapeutic options and change clinical management in a substantial number of cancer patients.