Synthesis and pre-clinical evaluation of a new class of high-affinity 18F-labeled PSMA ligands for detection of prostate cancer by PET imaging

James Kelly, Alejandro Amor-Coarasa, Anastasia Nikolopoulou, Dohyun Kim, Clarence Williams, Shashikanth Ponnala, John W. Babich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Purpose: Current clinical imaging of PSMA-positive prostate cancer by positron emission tomography (PET) mainly features 68Ga-labeled tracers, notably [68Ga]Ga-PSMA-HBED-CC. The longer half-life of fluorine-18 offers significant advantages over Ga-68, clinically and logistically. We aimed to develop high-affinity PSMA inhibitors labeled with fluorine-18 as alternative tracers for prostate cancer. Methods: Six triazolylphenyl ureas and their alkyne precursors were synthesized from the Glu-urea-Lys PSMA binding moiety. PSMA affinity was determined in a competitive binding assay using LNCaP cells. The [18F]triazoles were isolated following a Cu(I)-catalyzed click reaction between the alkynes and [18F]fluoroethylazide. The 18F-labeled compounds were evaluated in nude mice bearing LNCaP tumors and compared to [68Ga]Ga-PSMA-HBED-CC and [18F]DCFPyL. Biodistribution studies of the two tracers with the highest imaged-derived tumor uptake and highest PSMA affinity were undertaken at 1 h, 2 h and 4 h post-injection (p.i.), and co-administration of PMPA was used to determine whether uptake was PSMA-specific. Results: F-18-labeled triazolylphenyl ureas were prepared with a decay-corrected RCY of 20–40 %, >98 % radiochemical and chemical purity, and specific activity of up to 391 GBq/μmol. PSMA binding (IC50) ranged from 3–36 nM. The position of the triazole influenced tumor uptake (3 > 4 > 2), and direct conjugation of the triazole with the phenylurea moiety was preferred to insertion of a spacer group. Image-derived tumor uptake ranged from 6–14 %ID/g at 2 h p.i., the time of maximum tumor uptake; uptake of [68Ga]Ga-PSMA-HBED-CC and [18F]DCFPyL was 5–6 %ID/g at 1–3 h p.i., the time of maximum tumor uptake. Biodistribution studies of the two most promising compounds gave maximum tumor uptakes of 10.9 ± 1.0 % and 14.3 ± 2.5 %ID/g, respectively, as compared to 6.27 ± 1.44 %ID/g for [68Ga]Ga-PSMA-HBED-CC. Conclusions: Six [18F]triazolylphenyl ureas were prepared in good radiochemical yield. Compounds showed PSMA-specific uptake in LNCaP tumors as high as 14 % ID/g, more than a 2-fold increase over [68Ga]Ga-PSMA-HBED-CC. The facile and high-yielding radiosynthesis of these 18F-labeled triazoles as well as their promising in vitro and in vivo characteristics make them worthy of clinical development for PET imaging of prostate cancer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)647-661
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Fluorine-18
  • PSMA
  • Prostate cancer
  • Triazolylphenyl ureas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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