Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is one of the most aggressive and treatment-refractory malignancies. The lack of an effective screening tool results in the majority of patients being diagnosed at late stages, which underscores the urgent need to develop more sensitive and specific imaging modalities, particularly in detecting occult metastases, to aid clinical decision-making. The tumor microenvironment of PDAC is heavily infiltrated with myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) that express C-C chemokine receptor type 2 (CCR2). These CCR2-expressing MDSCs accumulate at a very early stage of metastasis and greatly outnumber PDAC cells, making CCR2 a promising target for detecting early, small metastatic lesions that have scant PDAC cells. Herein, we evaluated a CCR2 targeting PET tracer (68Ga-DOTA-ECL1i) for PET imaging on PDAC metastasis in two mouse models. Positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) imaging of 68Ga-DOTA-ECL1i was performed in a hemisplenic injection metastasis model (KI) and a genetically engineered orthotopic PDAC model (KPC), which were compared with 18F-FDG PET concurrently. Autoradiography, hematoxylin and eosin (H&E), and CCR2 immunohistochemical staining were performed to characterize the metastatic lesions. PET/CT images visualized the PDAC metastases in the liver/lung of KI mice and in the liver of KPC mice. Quantitative uptake analysis revealed increased metastasis uptake during disease progression in both models. In comparison, 18F-FDG PET failed to detect any metastases during the time course studies. H&E staining showed metastases in the liver and lung of KI mice, within which immunostaining clearly demonstrated the overexpression of CCR2 as well as CCR2+ cell infiltration into the normal liver. H&E staining, CCR2 staining, and autoradiography also confirmed the expression of CCR2 and the uptake of 68Ga-DOTA-ECL1i in the metastatic foci in KPC mice. Using our novel CCR2 targeted radiotracer 68Ga-DOTA-ECL1i and PET/CT, we demonstrated the sensitive and specific detection of CCR2 in the early PDAC metastases in two mouse models, indicating its potential in future clinical translation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)285-293
Number of pages9
JournalACS Pharmacology and Translational Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 12 2024


  • C−C chemokine receptor type 2
  • metastasis
  • pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma


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