Reactive microgliosis is a pathological hallmark that accompanies neuronal demise in many neurodegenerative diseases, ranging from acute brain/spinal cord injuries to chronic diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and age-related dementia. One strategy to assess and monitor microgliosis is to use positron emission tomography (PET) by exploiting radioligands selective for the 18 kDa translocator protein (TSPO) which is highly upregulated in the brain in pathological conditions. Several TSPO ligands have been developed and validated, so far. Among these, PBR28 has been widely adopted for PET imaging at both preclinical and clinical levels, thanks to its high brain penetration and high selectivity. For this reason, PBR28 represents a good candidate for functionalization strategies, where this ligand could be exploited to drive selective targeting of TSPO-expressing cells. Since the PBR28 structure lacks functional moieties that could be exploited for derivatization, in this work we explored a synthetic pathway for the synthesis of a PBR28 derivative carrying an alkyne group (PBR-alkyne), enabling the fast conjugation of the ligand through azide-alkyne cycloaddition, also known as click-chemistry. As a proof of concept, we demonstrated in silico that the derivatized PBR28 ligand maintains the capability to fit into the TSPO binding pocked, and we successfully exploited PBR-alkyne to decorate zwitterionic biodegradable polymer nanoparticles (NPs) resulting in efficient internalization in cultured microglia-like cell lines.
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