Immune checkpoint inhibition (ICI) is a promising cancer therapy, which has progressed rapidly from a preclinical concept to clinical implementation. Commonly considered targets in ICI are CTLA-4, PD-1/PD-L1, and LAG-3, and the list grows. As ICI is generally only beneficial for a subset of patients, there is a need to select patients that are eligible for therapy as well as to monitor therapy response. There is growing interest to do this noninvasively, by molecular imaging with target-specific tracers. To this day, noninvasive imaging has focused on CTLA-4 and PD-1/PD-L1, while there is no noninvasive tool available to accurately assess LAG-3 expression in vivo. In this proof-of-concept study, we developed nanobodies, the smallest functional fragments from camelid heavy chain-only antibodies, to noninvasively evaluate mouse LAG-3 expression using single positron-emission computed tomography (SPECT)/CT imaging. The in vitro characterization of 114 nanobodies led to the selection of nine nanobodies binding to mouse LAG-3. The injection of 99mTechnetium-labeled nanobodies in healthy mice showed specific uptake in immune peripheral organs like the spleen and lymph nodes, which was not observed in LAG-3 gene knock-out mice. Moreover, nanobody uptake could be visualized using SPECT/CT and correlated to the presence of LAG-3 as assessed in flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry. SPECT/CT scans of tumor bearing mice further confirmed the diagnostic potential of the nanobodies. These findings substantiate the approach to use nanobodies as a tool to image inhibitory immune checkpoints in the tumor environment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number548
Number of pages20
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sep 2019


  • LAG-3
  • cancer
  • immune cell
  • immune checkpoint
  • molecular imaging
  • nanobody
  • nuclear imaging
  • single domain antibody


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