Theranostics 2018; 8(10):2799-2813. doi:10.7150/thno.22980

Research Paper

The human somatostatin receptor type 2 as an imaging and suicide reporter gene for pluripotent stem cell-derived therapy of myocardial infarction

Katrien Neyrinck1,2*, Natacha Breuls3*, Bryan Holvoet1*, Wouter Oosterlinck4, Esther Wolfs5, Hubert Vanbilloen1, Olivier Gheysens1, Robin Duelen3, Willy Gsell6, Ivo Lambrichts5, Uwe Himmelreich6, Catherine M. Verfaillie2, Maurilio Sampaolesi3, Christophe M. Deroose1✉

1. Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, Department of Imaging and Pathology, KU Leuven, Belgium.
2. Stem Cell Institute Leuven, Department of development and regeneration, KU Leuven, Belgium.
3. Translational Cardiomyology Lab, Department of Development and Regeneration, KU Leuven, Belgium.
4. Cardiac Surgery, Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, KU Leuven, Belgium.
5. Lab of Histology, Department of Morphology, Biomedical Research Institute, Universiteit Hasselt, Belgium.
6. Biomedical MRI Unit, Department of Imaging and Pathology, KU Leuven, Belgium.
* Equal contribution to this work


Rationale: Pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) are being investigated as a cell source for regenerative medicine since they provide an infinitive pool of cells that are able to differentiate towards every cell type of the body. One possible therapeutic application involves the use of these cells to treat myocardial infarction (MI), a condition where billions of cardiomyocytes (CMs) are lost. Although several protocols have been developed to differentiate PSCs towards CMs, none of these provide a completely pure population, thereby still posing a risk for neoplastic teratoma formation. Therefore, we developed a strategy to (i) monitor cell behavior noninvasively via site-specific integration of firefly luciferase (Fluc) and the human positron emission tomography (PET) imaging reporter genes, sodium iodide symporter (hNIS) and somatostatin receptor type 2 (hSSTr2), and (ii) perform hSSTr2-mediated suicide gene therapy via the clinically used radiopharmacon 177Lu-DOTATATE.

Methods: Human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) were gene-edited via zinc finger nucleases to express Fluc and either hNIS or hSSTr2 in the safe harbor locus, adeno-associated virus integration site 1. Firstly, these cells were exposed to 4.8 MBq 177Lu-DOTATATE in vitro and cell survival was monitored via bioluminescence imaging (BLI). Afterwards, hNIS+ and hSSTr2+ ESCs were transplanted subcutaneously and teratomas were allowed to form. At day 59, baseline 124I and 68Ga-DOTATATE PET and BLI scans were performed. The day after, animals received either saline or 55 MBq 177Lu-DOTATATE. Weekly BLI scans were performed, accompanied by 124I and 68Ga-DOTATATE PET scans at days 87 and 88, respectively. Finally, hSSTr2+ ESCs were differentiated towards CMs and transplanted intramyocardially in the border zone of an infarct that was induced by left anterior descending coronary artery ligation. After transplantation, the animals were monitored via BLI and PET, while global cardiac function was evaluated using cardiac magnetic resonance imaging.

Results: Teratoma growth of both hNIS+ and hSSTr2+ ESCs could be followed noninvasively over time by both PET and BLI. After 177Lu-DOTATATE administration, successful cell killing of the hSSTr2+ ESCs was achieved both in vitro and in vivo, indicated by reductions in total tracer lesion uptake, BLI signal and teratoma volume. As undifferentiated hSSTr2+ ESCs are not therapeutically relevant, they were differentiated towards CMs and injected in immune-deficient mice with a MI. Long-term cell survival could be monitored without uncontrolled cell proliferation. However, no improvement in the left ventricular ejection fraction was observed.

Conclusion: We developed isogenic hSSTr2-expressing ESCs that allow noninvasive cell monitoring in the context of PSC-derived regenerative therapy. Furthermore, we are the first to use the hSSTr2 not only as an imaging reporter gene, but also as a suicide mechanism for radionuclide therapy in the setting of PSC-derived cell treatment.

Keywords: noninvasive imaging, stem cell therapy, myocardial infarction, suicide gene

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How to cite this article:
Neyrinck K, Breuls N, Holvoet B, Oosterlinck W, Wolfs E, Vanbilloen H, Gheysens O, Duelen R, Gsell W, Lambrichts I, Himmelreich U, Verfaillie CM, Sampaolesi M, Deroose CM. The human somatostatin receptor type 2 as an imaging and suicide reporter gene for pluripotent stem cell-derived therapy of myocardial infarction. Theranostics 2018; 8(10):2799-2813. doi:10.7150/thno.22980. Available from