Date of Award


Degree Type

Closed Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Zhi-Ren Liu - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

Delon Barfuss - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Hui Mao - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Jenny Yang - Committee Member


Molecular Imaging provides new aspects in cancer diagnosis and treatment. With the ap-plication of imaging and biological techniques, molecular imaging can monitor molecular and cellular changes of different diseases. To interpret the mechanism of disease, more and more at-tention is focused on the development of new probes for molecular imaging. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a powerful, non-invasive clinical diagnostic tool with high spatial resolution without the limitation of the depth of tissues. Applications of MRI contrast agents can amply the MRI signal during imaging. Many studies have been devoted to developing targeted MR contrast agents. Proteins and peptides have been widely used for target-ing cancer cells in cancer diagnosis and treatments. GRP, gastrin-releasing peptide, is one of a well-characterized group of mammalian bombesin-like peptides. GRP acts through its cell surface receptors, GRP receptor (GRPR). It has been reported that there is a high density of GRP receptors in the majority of prostate carci-noma. In contrast, the GRPRs are not highly expressed in normal cells of most tissues. Thus, this tumor specific expression pattern provides an advantage for cancer targeting. A novel class of MRI contrast agent was designed by adding the Gd3+ binding sites into a stable host protein, the domain 1 of rat CD2. Due to the unique features of the designed metal binding properties, the protein contrast agent (ProCA1) exhibits more than 10-fold enhanced MRI relaxivity compared to that of the more commonly used Gd-DTPA. The high relaxivity of the designed protein contrast agent largely overcomes the major barrier of low sensitivity of MRI techniques. A peptide of ten amino acids from the C-terminal of GRP was grafted onto ProCA1. GRP-grafted protein contrast agents (ProCA1.GRPs) showed the targeting capability to the GRPRs which are over-expressed on prostate cancer cells. Cell MRI Imaging demonstrated that ProCA1.GRP(52) grafted between Lys51 and Ser52 had better targeting capability than C-terminal one. Administration of ProCA1.GRP into xenograft tumor model enhances the contrast in the GRPR+ prostate tumor under MRI and optical imaging. Study demonstrated a potential application for disease marker targeted MR imaging by using our developed protein contrast agent.