Atherosclerosis and Matrix Metalloproteinases: Experimental Molecular MR Imaging in Vivo


Amirbekian, V., Aguinaldo, J. G. S., Amirbekian, S., Hyafil, F., Vucic, E., Sirol, M., … & Fayad, Z. A. (2009). Atherosclerosis and matrix metalloproteinases: experimental molecular MR imaging in vivo. Radiology, 251(2), 429.



To evaluate the capability of P947, a magnetic resonance (MR) imaging contrast agent that molecularly targets matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), to aid detection and imaging of MMPs in atherosclerotic lesions in vivo; its specificity compared with that of P1135; expression and distribution of MMPs in atherosclerotic vessels; and in vivo distribution and molecular localization of fluorescent europium (Eu) P947.

Materials and Methods

The Animal Care and Use Committee approved all experiments. P947 was synthesized by attaching a gadolinium chelate (1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-N,N′,N″,N‴-tetraacetic acid) to a peptide that specifically binds MMPs. Scrambled form of P947 (P1135) was synthesized by replacing the targeting moiety of P947 with a scrambled peptide lacking the ability to bind MMPs. P947, P1135, and gadoterate meglumine were injected into atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E–deficient and wild-type mice. The aortic MR imaging enhancement produced by the contrast agents was measured at different times and was compared by using one-way analysis of variance. MMP expression was investigated in the aortas by using MMP immunostaining and in situ MMP zymography. A fluorescent form of P947 (Eu-P947) was synthesized to compare the in vivo distribution of the contrast agent (Eu-P947) with specific MMP immunofluorescent staining.


MMP-targeted P947 facilitated a 93% increase (P < .001) in MR image signal intensity (contrast-to-noise ratio [CNR], 17.7 compared with 7.7; P < .001) of atherosclerotic lesions in vivo. Nontargeted P1135 (scrambled P947) provided 33% MR image enhancement (CNR, 10.8), whereas gadoterate meglumine provided 5% (CNR, 6.9). Confocal laser scanning microscopy demonstrated colocalization between fluorescent Eu-P947 and MMPs in atherosclerotic plaques. Eu-P947 was particularly present in the fibrous cap region of plaques.


P947 improved MR imaging for atherosclerosis through MMP-specific targeting. The results were validated and provide support for further assessment of P947 as a potential tool for the identification of unstable atherosclerosis.

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