Aminolevulinic acid (ALA) has been approved as an intraoperative molecular imaging probe for protoporphyrin IX (PpIX) fluorescence-guided resection of glioma. Here we explored its potential application for renal cell carcinoma (RCC) that is showing increased incidence in recent years. ALA-mediated PpIX in cell lysates (intracellular) and culture medium was measured in five human RCC cell lines (786-O, 769-P, A-704, Caki-1, Caki-2) and a non-tumor human kidney epithelial cell line HK-2 by spectrofluorometry and flow cytometry. The activity of PpIX bioconversion enzyme ferrochelatase (FECH) and PpIX efflux transporter ABCG2 was determined to correlate with the PpIX level. We found that ALA-PpIX fluorescence was highly variable among RCC cell lines and A-704 was the only RCC cell line exhibiting significantly higher intracellular PpIX than HK-2 cells. Neither the intracellular PpIX level nor the total amount of PpIX (including PpIX in cell lysates and the medium) had significant correlation with the activity of FECH or ABCG2. To enhance the intracellular PpIX, cells were treated with Ko143, a pharmacological inhibitor of ABCG2. Ko143 significantly increased the intracellular PpIX in cell lines with ABCG2 activity, but not in cell lines with little ABCG2 activity. In fact, there was a positive correlation between the ABCG2 activity and Ko143-induced PpIX enhancement across kidney cell lines. To identify clinically relevant ABCG2 inhibitors, small molecule inhibitors targeting various cell signaling pathways, some of which are known to inhibit ABCG2, were evaluated for the enhancement of ALA-PpIX in Caki-2 cells that had the highest ABCG2 activity in the RCC cell panel. Our screening led to the identification of several clinically available inhibitors that significantly increased the intracellular PpIX. Particularly, kinase inhibitor lapatinib exhibited the strongest enhancement effect. These clinical inhibitors can be used for the enhancement of ALA-PpIX fluorescence in tumors with elevated ABCG2 activity.
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