Efficient 18F labeling of cysteine-containing peptides and proteins using tetrazine-trans-cyclooctene ligation

Shuanglong Liu, Matthew Hassink, Ramajeyam Selvaraj, Li-Peng Yap, Ryan Park, Hui Wang, Xiaoyuan Chen, Joseph M Fox, Zibo Li, Peter S Conti
Molecular Imaging 2013, 12 (2): 121-8
18F positron emission tomography (PET) has a number of attributes that make it clinically attractive, including nearly 100% positron efficiency, very high specific radioactivity, and a short half-life of ≈ 110 minutes. However, the short half-life of 18F and the poor nucleophilicity of fluoride introduce challenges for the incorporation of 18F into complex molecules. Recently, the tetrazine-trans-cyclooctene ligation was introduced as a novel 18F labeling method that proceeds with fast reaction rates without catalysis. Herein we report an efficient method for 18F labeling of free cysteines of peptides and proteins based on sequential ligation with a bifunctional tetrazinyl-maleimide and an 18F-labeled trans-cyclooctene. The newly developed method was tested for site-specific labeling of both c(RGDyC) peptide and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-SH protein. Starting with 4 mCi of 18F-trans-cyclooctene and only 10 μg of tetrazine-RGD (80-100 μM) or 15 μg of tetrazine-VEGF (6.0 μM), 18F-labeled RGD peptide and VEGF protein could be obtained within 5 minutes in 95% yield and 75% yield, respectively. The obtained tracers were then evaluated in mice. In conclusion, a highly efficient method has been developed for site-specific 18F labeling of cysteine-containing peptides and proteins. The special characteristics of the tetrazine-trans-cyclooctene ligation provide unprecedented opportunities to synthesize 18F-labeled probes with high specific activity for PET applications.

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