1. Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, University of Groningen, University Medical Centre Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands;
2. Institute of Toxicology and Genetics, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Karlsruhe, Germany;
3. Amcure GmbH, Eggenstein-Leopolshafen, Germany;
4. Department of Pathology, University of Groningen, University Medical Centre Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands;
5. Department of Medical Oncology, University of Groningen, University Medical Centre Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands;
6. Department of Surgery, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging and Intensive Care, University of Groningen, University Medical Centre Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.
* These authors contributed equally and jointly supervised the work.
Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. High adenoma miss rates, especially seen in high-risk patients, demand for better endoscopic detection. By fluorescently 'highlighting' specific molecular characteristics, endoscopic molecular imaging has great potential to fulfill this need. To implement this technique effectively, target proteins that distinguish adenomas from normal tissue must be identified. In this study we applied in silico Functional Genomic mRNA (FGmRNA) profiling, which is a recently developed method that results in an enhanced view on the downstream effects of genomic alterations occurring in adenomas on gene expression levels. FGmRNA profiles of sporadic adenomas were compared to normal colon tissue to identify overexpressed genes. We validated the protein expression of the top identified genes, AXIN2, CEMIP, CD44 and JUN, in sporadic adenoma patient samples via immunohistochemistry (IHC). CD44 was identified as the most attractive target protein for imaging purposes and we proved its relevance in high-risk patients by demonstrating CD44 protein overexpression in Lynch lesions. Subsequently, we show that the epithelial splice variant CD44V6 is highly overexpressed in our patient samples and we demonstrated the feasibility of visualizing adenomas in ApcMin/+ mice in vivo by using a fluorescently labeled CD44v6 targeting peptide. In conclusion, via in silico functional genomics and ex vivo protein validation, this study identified CD44 as an attractive molecular target for both sporadic and high-risk Lynch adenomas, and demonstrates the in vivo applicability of a small peptide drug directed against splice variant CD44v6 for adenoma imaging.
Keywords: Functional Genomics, Cancer Genetics, Colorectal adenomas, Molecular Targeted Imaging, CD44 / CD44v6.