Evaluation of crotamine based probes as intracellular targeted contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging

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Crotamine is a lysine and cysteine rich 42 amino acids long bio-active polypeptide, isolated from the venom of a South American rattlesnake, that can also be used as cell penetrating peptide. A facile synthetic scheme for coupling cargo molecules like fluorophores (carboxyfluorescein) or MRI probes (Gd-DO3A-based macrocycle) is presented. The toxicity, cellular internalization and steady-state accumulation after long-term incubation for 18 h, as well as magnetic resonance relaxivities and cellular relaxation rates of crotamine based probes were evaluated and compared to its shorter synthetic fragment CyLoP-1. The longitudinal relaxivity (r1) of the conjugates of CyLoP-1 and crotamine is significantly lower in medium than in water indicating to the lower contrast enhancement efficacy of DO3A-based probes in biological samples. Carboxyfluorescein labeled crotamine did not exhibit toxicity up to a concentration of 2.5 µM. CyLoP-1 accumulated about four times better within the cells compared to crotamine. Fluorescence microscopy suggests different predominant uptake mechanisms for crotamine and CyLoP-1 in 3T3 cells. While crotamine is predominantly localized in vesicular structures (most likely endosomes and lysosomes) within the cell, CyLoP-1 is mainly homogeneously distributed in the cytosol. The cellular relaxation rate (R1, cell) of the crotamine based probe was not significantly increased whereas the corresponding CyLoP-1-derivative showed a slightly elevated R1, cell. This study indicates the potential of crotamine and in particular the shorter fragment CyLoP-1 to be useful for an efficient transmembrane delivery of agents directed to intracellular (cytosolic) targets. However, the applicability of the conjugates synthesized here as contrast agents in MR imaging is limited. Further improvement is needed to prepare more efficient probes for MRI applications, i.e., by replacing the DO3A- with a DOTA-based chelate.
Joshi R, Sweidan K, Jha D, Kerkis I, Scheffler K, Engelmann J. Evaluation of crotamine based probes as intracellular targeted contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging. Bioorg. Med. Chem. 2022 Sept;69:116863. doi:10.1016/j.bmc.2022.116863.
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