Combined image guided monitoring the pharmacokinetics of rapamycin loaded human serum albumin nanoparticles with a split luciferase reporter†
Imaging guided techniques have been increasingly employed to investigate the pharmacokinetics (PK) and biodistribution of nanoparticle based drug delivery systems. In most cases, however, the PK profiles of drugs could vary significantly from those of drug delivery carriers upon administration in the blood circulation, which complicates the interpretation of image findings. Herein we applied a genetically encoded luciferase reporter in conjunction with near infrared (NIR) fluorophores to investigate the respective PK profiles of a drug and its carrier in a biodegradable drug delivery system. In this system, a prototype hydrophobic agent, rapamycin (Rapa), was encapsulated into human serum albumin (HSA) to form HSA Rapa nanoparticles, which were then labeled with Cy5 fluorophore to facilitate the fluorescence imaging of HSA carrier. Meanwhile, we employed transgenetic HN12 cells that were modified with a split luciferase reporter, whose bioluminescence function is regulated by Rapa, to reflect the PK profile of the encapsulated agent. It was interesting to discover that there existed an obvious inconsistency of PK behaviors between HSA carrier and rapamycin in vitro and in vivo through near infrared fluorescence imaging (NIFRI) and bioluminescence imaging (BLI) after treatment with Cy5 labeled HSA Rapa. Nevertheless, HSA Rapa nanoparticles manifested favorable in vivo PK and tumor suppression efficacy in a follow-up therapeutic study. The developed strategy of combining a molecular reporter and a fluorophore in this study could be extended to other drug delivery systems to provide profound insights for non-invasive real-time evaluation of PK profiles of drug-loaded nanoparticles in pre-clinical studies.