Caspase-responsive smart gadolinium-based contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging of drug-induced apoptosis
Non-invasive detection of caspase-3/7 activity in vivo has provided invaluable predictive information regarding tumor therapeutic efficacy and anti-tumor drug selection. Although a number of caspase-3/7 targeted fluorescence and positron emission tomography (PET) imaging probes have been developed, there is still a lack of gadolinium (Gd)-based magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) probes that enable high spatial resolution detection of caspase-3/7 activity in vivo. Here we employ a self-assembly approach and develop a caspase-3/7 activatable Gd-based MRI probe for monitoring tumor apoptosis in mice. Upon reduction and caspase-3/7 activation, the caspase-sensitive nano-aggregation MR probe (C-SNAM: 1) undergoes biocompatible intramolecular cyclization and subsequent self-assembly into Gd-nanoparticles (GdNPs). This results in enhanced r1 relaxivity—19.0 (post-activation) vs. 10.2 mM−1 s−1 (pre-activation) at 1 T in solution—and prolonged accumulation in chemotherapy-induced apoptotic cells and tumors that express active caspase-3/7. We demonstrate that C-SNAM reports caspase-3/7 activity by generating a significantly brighter T1-weighted MR signal compared to non-treated tumors following intravenous administration of C-SNAM, providing great potential for high-resolution imaging of tumor apoptosis in vivo.