Preclinical evaluation of melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1-R) specific 68Ga- and 44Sc-labeled DOTA-NAPamide in melanoma imaging

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Alpha melanocyte stimulating hormone (α-MSH) enhances melanogenesis in melanoma malignum by binding to melanocortin-1 receptors (MC1-R). Earlier studies demonstrated that alpha-MSH analog NAPamide molecule specifically binds to MC1-R receptor. Radiolabeled NAPamide is a promising radiotracer for the non-invasive detection of melanin producing melanoma tumors by Positron Emission Tomography (PET). In this present study the MC1-R selectivity of the newly developed Sc-44-labeled DOTA-NAPamide was investigated in vitro and in vivo using melanoma tumors.


DOTA-NAPamide was labeled with Ga-68 and Sc-44 radionuclides. The MC1-R specificity of Ga-68- and Sc-44-labeled DOTA-NAPamide was investigated in vitro and in vivo using MC1-R positive (B16-F10) and negative (A375) melanoma cell lines. For in vivo imaging studies B16-F10 and A375 tumor-bearing mice were injected with 44Sc/68Ga-DOTA-NAPamide (in blocking studies with α-MSH) and whole body PET/MRI scans were acquired. Radiotracer uptake was expressed in terms of standardized uptake values (SUVs).


44Sc/68Ga-labeled DOTA-NAPamide were produced with high specific activity (approx. 19 GBq/μmol) and with excellent radiochemical purity (99%<). MC1-R positive B16-F10 cells showed significantly (p ≤ 0.01) higher in vitro radiotracer accumulation than that of receptor negative A375 melanoma cells. In animal experiments, also significantly (p ≤ 0.01) higher Ga-68-DOTA-NAPamide (SUVmean: 0.38 ± 0.02), and Sc-44-DOTA-NAPamide (SUVmean: 0.52 ± 0.13) uptake was observed in subcutaneously growing B16-F10 tumors, than in receptor negative A375 tumors, where the SUVmean values of Ga-68-DOTA-NAPamide and Sc-44-DOTA-NAPamide were 0.04 ± 0.01 and 0.07 ± 0.01, respectively. Tumor-to-muscle (T/M SUVmean) ratios were approximately 15-fold higher in B16-F10 tumor-bearing mice, than that of A375 tumors, and this difference was also significant (p ≤ 0.01) using both radiotracers after 60 min incubation time.


Our newly synthesized 44Sc-labeled DOTA-NAPamide probe showed excellent binding properties to melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1-R) positive melanoma cell and tumors. Due to its high specificity and sensitivity 44Sc-DOTA-NAPamide is a promising radiotracer in molecular imaging of malignant melanoma.

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