Theranostics 2012; 2(6):597-606. doi:10.7150/thno.3371

Research Paper

Radio-deoxynucleoside Analogs used for Imaging tk Expression in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Induced Hepatocellular Carcinoma

Haibin Tian1, Xincheng Lu2, Hong Guo3, David Corn1,4, Joseph Molter1,4, Bingcheng Wang3,5, Guangbin Luo2,5, Zhenghong Lee1,4,5✉

1. Departments of Radiology,
2. Departments of Genetics,
3. Departments of Pharmacology,
4. Case Center for Imaging Research,
5. Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA


Purpose: A group of radiolabeled thymidine analogs were developed as radio-tracers for imaging herpes viral thymidine kinase (HSV1-tk) or its variants used as reporter gene. A transgenic mouse model was created to express tk upon liver injury or naturally occurring hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). The purpose of this study was to use this unique animal model for initial testing with radio-labeled thymidine analogs, mainly a pair of newly emerging nucleoside analogs, D-FMAU and L-FMAU.

Methods: A transgeneic mouse model was created by putting a fused reporter gene system, firefly luciferase (luc) and HSV1-tk, under the control of mouse alpha fetoprotein (Afp) promoter. Initial multimodal imaging, which was consisted of bioluminescent imaging (BLI) and planar gamma scintigraphy with [125I]-FIAU, was used for examining the model creation in the new born and liver injury in the adult mice. Carcinogen diethylnitrosamine (DEN) was then administrated to induce HCC in these knock-in mice such that microPET imaging could be used to track the activity of Afp promoter during tumor development and progression by imaging tk expression first with [18F]-FHBG. Dynamic PET scans with D-[18F]-FMAU and L-[18F]-FMAU were then performed to evaluate this pair of relatively new tracers. Cells were derived from these liver tumors for uptake assays using H-3 labeled version of PET tracers.

Results: The mouse model with dual reporters: HSV1-tk and luc placed under the transcriptional control of an endogenous Afp promoter was used for imaging studies. The expression of the Afp gene was highly specific in proliferative hepatocytes, in regenerative liver, and in developing fetal liver, and thus provided an excellent indicator for liver injury and cancer development in adult mice. Both D-FMAU and L-FMAU showed stable liver tumor uptake where the tk gene was expressed under the Afp promoter. The performance of this pair of tracers was slightly different in terms of signal-to-background ratio as well as tracer clearance.

Conclusion: The newly created knock-in mouse model was used to demonstrate the use of the dual-reporter genes driven by well-characterized cancer-specific transcriptional units in conjunction with in vivo imaging as a paradigm in studying naturally occurring cancer in live animals. While BLI is suitable for small animal imaging with luc expression, PET with L-FMAU seemed be the choice for liver injury or liver cancer imaging with this animal model for future investigations.

Keywords: deoxynucleoside analogs, reporter gene imaging, hepatocellular carcinoma

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How to cite this article:
Tian H, Lu X, Guo H, Corn D, Molter J, Wang B, Luo G, Lee Z. Radio-deoxynucleoside Analogs used for Imaging tk Expression in a Transgenic Mouse Model of Induced Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Theranostics 2012; 2(6):597-606. doi:10.7150/thno.3371. Available from