Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting approximately 1% of the population and is characterized by cartilage and bone destruction ultimately leading to loss of joint function. Early detection and intervention of disease provides the best hope for successful treatment and preservation of joint mobility and function. Reliable and non-invasive techniques that accurately measure arthritic disease onset and progression are lacking. We recently developed a novel agent, SapC-DOPS, which is composed of the membrane-associated lysosomal protein saposin C (SapC) incorporated into 1,2-dioleoyl-sn-glycero-3-phospho-L-serine (DOPS) lipid nanovesicles. SapC-DOPS has a high fusogenic affinity for phosphatidylserine-enriched microdomains on surfaces of target cell membranes. Incorporation of a far-red fluorophore, CellVue Maroon (CVM), into the nanovesicles allows for in vivo non-invasive visualization of the agent in targeted tissue. Given that phosphatidylserine is present only on the inner leaflet of healthy plasma membranes but is "flipped" to the outer leaflet upon cell damage, we hypothesized that SapC-DOPS would target tissue damage associated with inflammatory arthritis due to local surface-exposure of phosphatidylserine. Optical imaging with SapC-DOPS-CVM in two distinct models of arthritis, serum-transfer arthritis (e.g., K/BxN) and collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) revealed robust SapC-DOPS-CVM specific localization to arthritic paws and joints in live animals. Importantly, intensity of localized fluorescent signal correlated with macroscopic arthritic disease severity and increased with disease progression. Flow cytometry of cells extracted from arthritic joints demonstrated that SapC-DOPS-CVM localized to an average of 7-8% of total joint cells and primarily to CD11b+Gr-1+ cells. Results from the current studies strongly support the application of SapC-DOPS-CVM for advanced clinical and research applications including: detecting early arthritis onset, assessing disease progression real-time in live subjects, and providing novel information regarding cell types that may mediate arthritis progression within joints.
Qi, X., Flick, M. J., Frederick, M., Chu, Z., Mason, R., DeLay, M., & Thornton, S. (2012). Saposin C coupled lipid nanovesicles specifically target arthritic mouse joints for optical imaging of disease severity. PLoS ONE, 7(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0033966