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Radiofluorinated GPC3-Binding Peptides for PET Imaging of Hepatocellular Carcinoma

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Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) remains one of the most challenging diseases worldwide. Glypican-3 (GPC-3) is a cell surface proteoglycan that is overexpressed on the membrane of HCC cells. The purpose of this study was to develop a target-specific radiofluorinated peptide for positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of GPC3 expression in hepatocellular carcinoma.


New GPC3-binding peptides (GP2076 and GP2633) were radiolabeled with F-18 using Al[18F]F labeling approach, and the resulting PET probes were subsequently subject to biological evaluations. A highly hydrophilic linker was incorporated into GP2633 with an aim of reducing the probe uptake in liver and increasing tumor-to-liver (T/L) contrast. Both GP2076 and GP2633 were radiolabeled using Al[18F]F chelation approach. The binding affinity, octanol/water partition coefficient, cellular uptake and efflux, and stability of both F-18 labeled peptides were tested. Tumor targeting efficacy and biodistribution of Al[18F]F-GP2076 and Al[18F]F-GP2633 were determined by PET imaging in HCC-bearing mice. Immunohistochemistry analyses were performed to compare the findings from PET scans.


Al[18F]F-GP2076 and Al[18F]F-GP2633 were rapidly radiosynthesized within 20 min in excellent radiochemical purity (> 97 %). Al[18F]F-GP2633 was determined to be more hydrophilic than Al[18F]F-GP2076 in terms of octanol/water partition coefficient. Both Al[18F]F-GP2076 and Al[18F]F-GP2633 demonstrated good in vitro and in vivo stability and binding specificity to GPC3-positive HepG2 cells. For PET imaging, Al[18F]F-GP2633 exhibited enhanced uptake in HepG2 tumor (%ID/g 3.37 ± 0.35 vs. 2.13 ± 0.55, P = 0.031) and reduced accumulation in liver (%ID/g 1.70 ± 0.26 vs. 3.70 ± 0.98, P = 0.027) at 60 min post-injection (pi) as compared to Al[18F]F-GP2076, resulting in significantly improved tumor-to-liver (T/L) contrast (ratio 2.00 ± 0.18 vs. 0.59 ± 0.14, P = 0.0004). Higher uptake of Al[18F]F-GP2633 in GPC3-positive HepG2 tumor was observed as compared to GPC3-negative McA-RH7777 tumor (%ID/g 3.37 ± 0.35 vs. 1.64 ± 0.03, P = 0.001) at 60 min pi, confirming GPC3-specific accumulation of Al[18F]F-GP2633 in HepG2 tumor.


The results demonstrated that Al[18F]F-GP2633 is a promising probe for PET imaging of GPC3 expression in HCC. Convenient preparation, excellent GPC3 specificity in HCC, and favorable excretion profile of Al[18F]F-GP2633 warrant further investigation for clinical translation. PET imaging with a GPC3-specific probe would provide clinicians with vital diagnostic information that could have a significant impact on the management of HCC patients.

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The authors thank Penghui Sun and Meng Wang for their helpful technical assistance.


This work was supported by the USC Research Center for Liver Diseases Pilot Funding (NIH Grant No. P30 DK048522), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81371591 and 81873905), and the Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province (2014A030313311).

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Correspondence to Hubing Wu or Kai Chen.

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All animal studies were approved by the Nanfang Hospital Animal Ethics Committee at the Southern Medical University, and in accordance with its guidelines.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Li, Y., Zhang, J., Gu, J. et al. Radiofluorinated GPC3-Binding Peptides for PET Imaging of Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Mol Imaging Biol 22, 134–143 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11307-019-01356-z

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Key words

  • GPC3
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma
  • PET imaging
  • F-18 labeled peptides
  • Hydrophilic linker