pHLIP Peptides Target Acidity in Activated Macrophages

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Purpose: Acidity can be a useful alternative biomarker for the targeting of metabolically active cells in certain diseased tissues, as in acute inflammation or aggressive tumors. We investigated the targeting of activated macrophages by pH low insertion peptides (pHLIPs), an established technology for targeting cell-surface acidity. Procedures: The uptake of fluorescent pHLIPs by activated macrophages was studied in cell cultures, in a mouse model of lung inflammation, and in a mouse tumor model. Fluorescence microscopy, whole-body and organ imaging, immunohistochemistry, and FACS analysis were employed. Results: We find that cultured, activated macrophages readily internalize pHLIPs. The uptake is higher in glycolytic macrophages activated by LPS and INF-γ compared to macrophages activated by IL-4/IL-13. Fluorescent pHLIPs target LPS-induced lung inflammation in mice. In addition to marking cancer cells within the tumor microenvironment, fluorescent pHLIPs target CD45+, CD11b+, F4/80+, and CD206+ tumor-associated macrophages with no significant targeting of other immune cells. Also, fluorescent pHLIPs target CD206-positive cells found in the inguinal lymph nodes of animals inoculated with breast cancer cells in mammary fat pads. Conclusions: pHLIP peptides sense low cell surface pH, which triggers their insertion into the cell membrane. Unlike cancerous cells, activated macrophages do not retain inserted pHLIPs on their surfaces, instead their highly active membrane recycling moves the pHLIPs into endosomes. Targeting activated macrophages in diseased tissues may enable clinical visualization and therapeutic opportunities.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Molecular Imaging and Biology