Deoxycytidine kinase (DCK) is a key enzyme for the activation of a broad spectrum of nucleoside-based chemotherapy drugs (e.g., gemcitabine); low DCK activity is one of the most important causes of cancer drug-resistance. Noninvasive imaging methods that can quantify DCK activity are invaluable for assessing tumor resistance and predicting treatment efficacy. Here we developed a “natural” MRI approach to detect DCK activity using its natural substrate deoxycytidine (dC) as the imaging probe, which can be detected directly by chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) MRI without any synthetic labeling. CEST MRI contrast of dC and its phosphorylated form, dCTP, successfully discriminated DCK activity in two mouse leukemia cell lines with different DCK expression. This dC-enhanced CEST MRI in xenograft leukemic cancer mouse models demonstrated that DCK(+) tumors have a distinctive dynamic CEST contrast enhancement and a significantly higher CEST contrast than DCK(−) tumors (AUC0–60 min = 0.47 ± 0.25 and 0.20 ± 0.13, respectively; P = 0.026, paired Student t test, n = 4) at 1 hour after the injection of dC. dC-enhanced CEST contrast also correlated well with tumor responses to gemcitabine treatment. This study demonstrates a novel MR molecular imaging approach for predicting cancer resistance using natural, nonradioactive, nonmetallic, and clinically available agents. This method has great potential for pursuing personalized chemotherapy by stratifying patients with different DCK activity.

Significance: A new molecular MRI method that detects deoxycytidine kinase activity using its natural substrate deoxycytidine has great translational potential for clinical assessment of tumor resistance and prediction of treatment efficacy.


The full text of the article can be found here: http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/79/10/2775.short

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