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Molecular MRI of the immuno-metabolic interplay in a rabbit liver tumor model: A biomarker for resistance mechanisms in tumor-targeted therapy?

Savic, L.J., Doemel, L. A., Schobert, I.T. et al.

Background The immuno-metabolic interplay has gained interest for determining and targeting immunosuppressive tumor micro-environments that remain a barrier to current immuno-oncologic therapies in hepatocellular carcinoma. Purpose To develop molecular MRI tools to reveal resistance mechanisms to immuno-oncologic therapies caused by the immuno-metabolic interplay in a translational liver cancer model. Materials and Methods A total of 21 VX2 liver tumor-bearing New Zealand white rabbits were used between October 2018 and February 2020. Rabbits were divided into three groups. Group A (n = 3) underwent intra-arterial infusion of gadolinium 160 (160Gd)-labeled anti-human leukocyte antigen-DR isotope (HLA-DR) antibodies to detect antigen-presenting immune cells. Group B (n = 3) received rhodamine-conjugated superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) intravenously to detect macrophages. These six rabbits underwent 3-T MRI, including T1- and T2-weighted imaging, before and 24 hours after contrast material administration. Group C (n = 15) underwent extracellular pH mapping with use of MR spectroscopy. Of those 15 rabbits, six underwent conventional transarterial chemoembolization (TACE), four underwent conventional TACE with extracellular pH-buffering bicarbonate, and five served as untreated controls. MRI signal intensity distribution was validated by using immunohistochemistry staining of HLA-DR and CD11b, Prussian blue iron staining, fluorescence microscopy of rhodamine, and imaging mass cytometry (IMC) of gadolinium. Statistical analysis included Mann-Whitney U and Kruskal-Wallis tests. Results T1-weighted MRI with 160Gd-labeled antibodies revealed localized peritumoral ring enhancement, which corresponded to gadolinium distribution detected with IMC. T2-weighted MRI with SPIONs showed curvilinear signal intensity representing selective peritumoral deposition in macrophages. Extracellular pH-specific MR spectroscopy of untreated liver tumors showed acidosis (mean extracellular pH, 6.78 ± 0.09) compared with liver parenchyma (mean extracellular pH, 7.18 ± 0.03) (P = .008) and peritumoral immune cell exclusion. Normalization of tumor extracellular pH (mean, 6.96 ± 0.05; P = .02) using bicarbonate during TACE increased peri- and intratumoral immune cell infiltration (P = .002). Conclusion MRI in a rabbit liver tumor model was used to visualize resistance mechanisms mediated by the immuno-metabolic interplay that inform susceptibility and response to immuno-oncologic therapies, providing a therapeutic strategy to restore immune permissiveness in liver cancer.

Citation

Savic, L.J., Doemel, L. A., Schobert, I.T. et al. "Molecular MRI of the immuno-metabolic interplay in a rabbit liver tumor model: A biomarker for resistance mechanisms in tumor-targeted therapy?" Radiology (2020): DOI: 10.1148/radiol.2020200373