Fluorescence endoscopy of cathepsin activity discriminates dysplasia from colitis

Elias Gounaris, John Martin, Yasushige Ishihara, Mohammad Wasim Khan, Goo Lee, Preetika Sinh, Eric Zongming Chen, Michael Angarone, Ralph Weissleder, Khasharyasha Khazaie, Terrence A. Barrett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Background: Surveillance colonoscopy using random biopsies to detect colitis-associated cancer (CAC) suffers from poor sensitivity. Although chromoendoscopy improves detection, acceptance in the community has been slow. Here, we examine the usefulness of near infrared fluorescence (NIRF) endoscopy to image molecular probes for cathepsin activity in colitis-induced dysplasia. Methods: In patient samples, cathepsin activity was correlated with colitis and dysplasia. In mice, cathepsin activity was detected as fluorescent hydrolysis product of substrate-based probes after injection into Il10-/- colitic mice. Fluorescence colonoscopy and colonic whole-mount imaging were performed before complete sectioning and pathology review of resected colons. Results: Cathepsin activity was 5-fold and 8-fold higher in dysplasia and CAC, respectively, compared with areas of mild colitis in patient tissue sections. The signal-to-noise ratios for dysplastic lesions seen by endoscopy in Il10 -/- mice were 5.2 6 1.3 (P = 0.0001). Lesions with increased NIRF emissions were classified as raised or flat dysplasia, lymphoid tissue, and ulcers. Using images collected by endoscopy, a receiver operating characteristic curve for correctly diagnosing dysplasia was calculated. The area under the curve was 0.927. At a cutoff of 1000 mean fluorescence intensity, the sensitivity and specificity for detecting dysplasia were 100% and 83%, respectively. Analysis revealed that focally enhanced NIRF emissions derived from increased numbers of infiltrating myeloid-derived suppressor cells and macrophages with equivalent cathepsin activity. Conclusions: These studies indicate that cathepsin substrate-based probe imaging correctly identifies dysplastic foci within chronically inflamed colons. Combined white light and NIRF endoscopy presents unique advantages that may increase sensitivity and specificity of surveillance colonoscopy in patients with CAC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1339-1345
Number of pages7
JournalInflammatory bowel diseases
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jun 2013


  • Cathepsin activity
  • Colitis
  • Dysplasia
  • Fluorescence endoscopy
  • Macrophages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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