Fluorescence Labeling of Circulating Tumor Cells with a Folate Receptor-Targeted Molecular Probe for Diffuse In Vivo Flow Cytometry

Roshani A. Patil, Madduri Srinivasarao, Mansoor M. Amiji, Philip S. Low, Mark Niedre

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Purpose: We recently developed a new instrument called “diffuse in vivo flow cytometry” (DiFC) for enumeration of rare fluorescently labeled circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in small animals without drawing blood samples. Until now, we have used cell lines that express fluorescent proteins or were pre-labeled with a fluorescent dye ex vivo. In this work, we investigated the use of a folate receptor (FR)-targeted fluorescence molecular probe for in vivo labeling of FR+ CTCs for DiFC. Procedures: We used EC-17, a FITC-folic acid conjugate that has been used in clinical trials for fluorescence-guided surgery. We studied the affinity of EC-17 for FR+ L1210A and KB cancer cells. We also tested FR− MM.1S cells. We tested the labeling specificity in cells in culture in vitro and in whole blood. We also studied the detectability of labeled cells in mice in vivo with DiFC. Results: EC-17 showed a high affinity for FR+ L1210A and KB cells in vitro. In whole blood, 85.4 % of L1210A and 80.9 % of KB cells were labeled above non-specific background with EC-17, and negligible binding to FR− MM.1S cells was observed. In addition, EC-17-labeled CTCs were readily detectable in circulation in mice with DiFC. Conclusions: This work demonstrates the feasibility of labeling CTCs with a cell-surface receptor-targeted probe for DiFC, greatly expanding the potential utility of the method for pre-clinical animal models. Because DiFC uses diffuse light, this method could be also used to enumerate CTCs in larger animal models and potentially even in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1280-1289
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Imaging and Biology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Circulating tumors cells (CTCs)
  • Diffuse imaging
  • Fluorescence
  • Folate receptor
  • In vivo flow cytometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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