Validation of Novel Molecular Imaging Targets Identified by Functional Genomic mRNA Profiling to Detect Dysplasia in Barrett’s Esophagus

Link to paper

Zhao X, Gabriëls RY, Hooghiemstra WTR, Koller M, Meersma GJ, Buist-Homan M, Visser L, Robinson DJ,
Tenditnaya A, Gorpas D, Ntziachristos V, Karrenbeld A, Kats-Ugurlu G, Fehrmann RSN, Nagengast WB

Barrett’s esophagus (BE) is the precursor of esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC). Dysplastic BE (DBE) has a higher progression risk to EAC compared to non-dysplastic BE (NDBE). However, the miss rates for the endoscopic detection of DBE remain high. Fluorescence molecular endoscopy (FME) can detect DBE and mucosal EAC by highlighting the tumor-specific expression of proteins. This study aimed to identify target proteins suitable for FME. Publicly available RNA expression profiles of EAC and NDBE were corrected by functional genomic mRNA (FGmRNA) profiling. Following a class comparison between FGmRNA profiles of EAC and NDBE, predicted, significantly upregulated genes in EAC were prioritized by a literature search. Protein expression of prioritized genes was validated by immunohistochemistry (IHC) on DBE and NDBE tissues. Near-infrared fluorescent tracers targeting the proteins were developed and evaluated ex vivo on fresh human specimens. In total, 1976 overexpressed genes were identified in EAC (n = 64) compared to NDBE (n = 66) at RNA level. Prioritization and IHC validation revealed SPARC, SULF1, PKCι, and DDR1 (all p < 0.0001) as the most attractive imaging protein targets for DBE detection. Newly developed tracers SULF1-800CW and SPARC-800CW both showed higher fluorescence intensity in DBE tissue compared to paired non-dysplastic tissue. This study identified SPARC, SULF1, PKCι, and DDR1 as promising targets for FME to differentiate DBE from NDBE tissue, for which SULF1-800CW and SPARC-800CW were successfully ex vivo evaluated. Clinical studies should further validate these findings.