Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor Type 2–targeted Contrast-enhanced US of Pancreatic Cancer Neovasculature in a Genetically Engineered Mouse Model: Potential for Earlier Detection

Marybeth A. Pysz, Steven B. Machtaler, E. Scott Seeley, John J. Lee, Teresa A. Brentnall, Jarrett Rosenberg, François Tranquart, Jürgen K. Willmann
PURPOSE: To test ultrasonographic (US) imaging with vascular endothelial growth factor receptor type 2 (VEGFR2)-targeted microbubble contrast material for the detection of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) in a transgenic mouse model of pancreatic cancer development. MATERIALS AND METHODS: Experiments involving animals were approved by the Institutional Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care at Stanford University. Transgenic mice (n = 44; Pdx1-Cre, KRas(G12D), Ink4a(-/-)) that spontaneously develop PDAC starting at 4 weeks of age were imaged by using a dedicated small-animal US system after intravenous injection of 5 × 10(7) clinical-grade VEGFR2-targeted microbubble contrast material. The pancreata in wild-type (WT) mice (n = 64) were scanned as controls. Pancreatic tissue was analyzed ex vivo by means of histologic examination (with hematoxylin-eosin staining) and immunostaining of vascular endothelial cell marker CD31 and VEGFR2. The Wilcoxon rank sum test and linear mixed-effects model were used for statistical analysis. RESULTS: VEGFR2-targeted US of PDAC showed significantly higher signal intensities (26.8-fold higher; mean intensity ± standard deviation, 6.7 linear arbitrary units [lau] ± 8.5; P < .001) in transgenic mice compared with normal, control pancreata of WT mice (mean intensity, 0.25 lau ± 0.25). The highest VEGFR2-targeted US signal intensities were observed in smaller tumors, less than 3 mm in diameter (30.8-fold higher than control tissue with mean intensity of 7.7 lau ± 9.3 [P < .001]; and 1.7-fold higher than lesions larger than 3 mm in diameter with mean intensity of 4.6 lau ± 5.8 [P < .024]). Ex vivo quantitative VEGFR2 immunofluorescence demonstrated that VEGFR2 expression was significantly higher in pancreatic tumors (P < .001; mean fluorescent intensity, 499.4 arbitrary units [au] ± 179.1) compared with normal pancreas (mean fluorescent intensity, 232.9 au ± 83.7). CONCLUSION: US with clinical-grade VEGFR2-targeted microbubbles allows detection of small foci of PDAC in transgenic mice.

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