Theranostics 2019; 9(2):554-572. doi:10.7150/thno.27213

Research Paper

Evaluation of [11C]NMS-E973 as a PET tracer for in vivo visualisation of HSP90

Koen Vermeulen1*, Evelyne Naus2*, Muneer Ahamed3, Bala Attili1, Maxime Siemons1,2, Kaat Luyten1,2, Sofie Celen1, Joost Schymkowitz2, Frederic Rousseau2, Guy Bormans1✉

1. Laboratory for Radiopharmaceutical Research, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
2. Switch Laboratory, VIB-KU Leuven Center for Brain & Disease Research, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium
3. College of Science and Engineering, Flinders University, Bedford Park, South Australia, Australia
*These authors contributed equally to this manuscript


Heat shock protein 90 is an ATP-dependent molecular chaperone important for folding, maturation and clearance of aberrantly expressed proteins and is abundantly expressed (1-2% of all proteins) in the cytosol of all normal cells. In some tumour cells, however, strong expression of HSP90 is also observed on the cell membrane and in the extracellular matrix and the affinity of tumoural HSP90 for ATP domain inhibitors was reported to increase over 100-fold compared to that of HSP90 in normal cells. Here, we explore [11C]NMS-E973 as a PET tracer for in vivo visualisation of HSP90 and as a potential tool for in vivo quantification of occupancy of HSP90 inhibitors.

Methods: HSP90 expression was biochemically characterized in a panel of established cell lines including the melanoma line B16.F10. B16.F10 melanoma xenograft tumour tissue was compared to non-malignant mouse tissue. NMS-E973 was tested in vitro for HSP90 inhibitory activity in several tumour cell lines. HSP90-specific binding of [11C]NMS-E973 was evaluated in B16.F10 melanoma cells and B16.F10 melanoma, prostate cancer LNCaP and PC3, SKOV-3 xenograft tumour slices and in vivo in a B16.F10 melanoma mouse model.

Results: Strong intracellular upregulation and abundant membrane localisation of HSP90 was observed in the different tumour cell lines, in the B16.F10 tumour cell line and in B16.F10 xenograft tumours compared to non-malignant tissue. NMS-E973 showed HSP90-specific inhibition and reduced proliferation of cells. [11C]NMS-E973 showed strong binding to B16.F10 melanoma cells, which was inhibited by 200 µM of PU-H71, a non-structurally related HSP90 inhibitor. HSP90-specific binding was observed by in vitro autoradiography of murine B16.F10 melanoma, LNCaP and PC3 prostate cancer and SKOV-3 ovary carcinoma tissue slices. Further, B16.F10 melanoma-inoculated mice were subjected to a µPET study, where the tracer showed fast and persistent tumour uptake. Pretreatment of B16.F10 melanoma mice with PU-H71 or Ganetespib (50 mg/kg) completely blocked tumour accumulation of [11C]NMS-E973 and confirmed in vivo HSP90 binding specificity. HSP90-specific binding of [11C]NMS-E973 was observed in blood, lungs and spleen of tumour-bearing animals but not in control animals.

Conclusion: [11C]NMS-E973 is a PET tracer for in vivo visualisation of tumour HSP90 expression and can potentially be used for quantification of HSP90 occupancy. Further translational evaluation of [11C]NMS-E973 is warranted.

Keywords: HSP90, PET imaging, carbon-11, melanoma, NMS-E973

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How to cite this article:
Vermeulen K, Naus E, Ahamed M, Attili B, Siemons M, Luyten K, Celen S, Schymkowitz J, Rousseau F, Bormans G. Evaluation of [11C]NMS-E973 as a PET tracer for in vivo visualisation of HSP90. Theranostics 2019; 9(2):554-572. doi:10.7150/thno.27213. Available from