Role of Albumin in Accumulation and Persistence of Tumor-Seeking Cyanine Dyes. Academic Article uri icon


  • Some heptamethine cyanine dyes accumulate in solid tumors in vivo and persist there for several days. The reasons why they accumulate and persist in tumors were incompletely defined, but explanations based on uptake into cancer cells via organic anion transporting polypeptides (OATPs) have been widely discussed. All cyanine-based "tumor-seeking dyes" have a chloride centrally placed on the heptamethine bridge (a "meso-chloride"). We were intrigued and perplexed by the correlation between this particular functional group and tumor uptake, so the following study was designed. It features four dyes (1-Cl, 1-Ph, 5-Cl, and 5-Ph) with complementary properties. Dye 1-Cl is otherwise known as MHI-148, and 1-Ph is a close analog wherein the meso-chloride has been replaced by a phenyl group. Data presented here shows that both 1-Cl and 1-Ph form noncovalent adducts with albumin, but only 1-Cl can form a covalent one. Both dyes 5-Cl and 5-Ph have a methylene (CH2) unit replaced by a dimethylammonium functionality (N+Me2). Data presented here shows that both these dyes 5 do not form tight noncovalent adducts with albumin, and only 5-Cl can form a covalent one (though much more slowly than 1-Cl). In tissue culture experiments, uptake of dyes 1 is more impacted by the albumin in the media than by the pan-OATP uptake inhibitor (BSP) that has been used to connect uptake of tumor-seeking dyes in vivo with the OATPs. Uptake of 1-Cl in media containing fluorescein-labeled albumin gave a high degree of colocalization of intracellular fluorescence. No evidence was found for the involvement of OATPs in uptake of the dyes into cells in media containing albumin. In an in vivo tumor model, only the two dyes that can form albumin adducts (1-Cl and 5-Cl) gave intratumor fluorescence that persisted long enough to be clearly discerned over the background (4 h); this fluorescence was still observed at 48 h. Tumors could be imaged with a higher contrast if 5-Cl is used instead of 1-Cl, because 5-Cl is cleared more rapidly from healthy tissues. Overall, the evidence is consistent with in vitro and in vivo results and indicates that the two dyes in the test series that accumulate in tumors and persist there (1-Cl and 5-Cl, true tumor-seeking dyes) do so as covalent albumin adducts trapped in tumor tissue via uptake by some cancer cells and via the enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect.

published proceedings

  • Bioconjug Chem

author list (cited authors)

  • Usama, S. M., Park, G. K., Nomura, S., Baek, Y., Choi, H. S., & Burgess, K.

publication date

  • January 1, 2020 11:11 AM