Background Previously, we reported on the unexpected development of distant metastases in the subcutaneous rat pancreas CA20948 tumor model after 4.5 weeks of treatment with RAD001-only or in combination with [177Lu-DOTA0,Tyr3]octreotate (177Lu-DOTATATE) (Cancer Res. 73:12-8, 2013). Moreover, the combination therapy was less effective compared to 177Lu-DOTATATE-only. In the current study, we address the following questions: (1) Why was the combination therapy less effective? Is 177Lu-DOTATATE tumor uptake affected by pretreatment with RAD001? (2) Could sudden cessation of RAD001 therapy cause the development of distant metastases? (3) Is 177Lu-DOTATATE an effective treatment option for these metastases? Methods Lewis rats (HanHsd or SsNHsd substrain with a slight difference in immune response) bearing subcutaneous CA20948 tumors were treated with either 125 or 275 MBq 177Lu-DOTATATE, RAD001, or their combination. RAD001 was given twice a week for 4.5 or 12 weeks, whereas 177Lu-DOTATATE was given as a single injection. When combined, RAD001 was started either 3 days prior to or 3 days post administration of 177Lu-DOTATATE. SPECT/CT was performed to quantify 177Lu-DOTATATE tumor uptake. Where indicated, primary tumors were surgically removed when tumor size is >6,000 mm3 to enable monitoring for possible metastasis. If metastases were suspected, an 111In-DTPA-octreotide SPECT/CT scan was performed. Seven rats with metastases were treated with 400 MBq 177Lu-DOTATATE. Results Lu-DOTATATE tumor uptake was not significantly affected by RAD001 pretreatment. The occurrence of metastases after RAD001 treatment was not dose dependent in the dose range tested, nor was it related to the duration of RAD001 treatment. In the experiment in which the LEW/SsNsd substrain was used, only 12.5% of RAD001-treated rats showed complete response (CR), compared to 50% tumor regression in the control group. Re-treatment with a high dose of 177Lu-DOTATATE resulted in CR in only two out of seven animals. Conclusion Less effective anti-tumor effects after the combination of RAD001 + 177Lu-DOTATATE could not be explained by reduced 177Lu-DOTATATE tumor uptake after RAD001. Our current data support RAD001-induced immune suppression as the reason for this observation. No evidence was found that cessation of RAD001 treatment caused development of metastases. Metastases appeared to be less sensitive to 177Lu-DOTATATE treatment than primary tumors
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