In vivo detection of urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) expression in arterial atherogenesis using [64Cu]Cu-DOTA-AE105 positron emission tomography (PET)

Harshvardhan A. Khare, Kristina B. V. Døssing, Lars Ringgaard, Esben Christensen, Laerke Urbak, Henrik Sillesen, Rasmus S. Ripa, Tina Binderup, Sune F. Pedersen, Andreas Kjaer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Background and aims: Urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR) is associated with extracellular matrix (ECM) degradation and cancer aggressiveness. Its role in arterial atherogenesis as a molecular imaging target is not well-established. The aim of this study was to non-invasively visualize uPAR expression in atherosclerosis by a novel uPAR-targeting positron emission tomography (PET) tracer [64Cu]Cu-DOTA-AE105.

Methods: We used molecular biology to investigate uPAR expression by analyzing human atherosclerotic plaques and cultured cells. A retrospective analysis was performed on patients, who underwent combined PET/CT (n = 10) to measure [64Cu]Cu-DOTA-AE105 uptake in five large arteries, divided into a high and low-risk group based on coronary artery calcium score (CAC score).

Results: The in vitro assay for THP-1 monocytes displayed a significantly upregulated uPAR expression upon stimulation (5.2-fold upregulation, p < 0.0001 by a one-way ANOVA followed by Tukey's test) by single-cell flowcytometric analysis. Freshly excised human atherosclerotic plaques underwent flow cytometric and microarray analyses manifesting 73.9 ± 2.9% of mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS) cells expressing uPAR and had a greater than 7-fold higher gene expression of plasminogen activator urokinase receptor (PLAUR, p = 0.002), integrin subunit alpha X (ITGAX, p = 0.0008), and cluster of differentiation 163 (CD163, p < 0.0001). The tissue-to-background ratios (TBRmax) in five large arteries showed a higher [64Cu]Cu-DOTA-AE105 uptake in the group with high CAC score compared to the group with low CAC score (2.4 ± 0.1 vs 1.7 ± 0.1, p = 0.057), significantly higher in the ascending aorta (2.7 ± 0.1 vs 2.0 ± 0.1, p = 0.038) and the abdominal aorta (3.2 ± 0.2 vs 2.0 ± 0.2, p = 0.038) by a non-parametric Mann-Whitney test.

Conclusions: uPAR is abundantly expressed by MPS cells in atherosclerotic plaques and can be visualized by the novel PET tracer [64Cu]Cu-DOTA-AE105 that may non-invasively detect extracellular matrix remodeling during atherogenesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)103-111
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Atherosclerosis
  • Atherosclerotic plaque
  • Urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor (uPAR)
  • Positron-emission tomography (PET)
  • Molecular imaging
  • Mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS)


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