Sodium fluorescein uptake by the tumor microenvironment in human gliomas and brain metastases

J Neurosurg 140:958–967, 2024

Intravenous sodium fluorescein (SF) is increasingly used during surgery of gliomas and brain metastases to improve tumor resection. Currently, SF is believed to permeate the brain regions where the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is damaged and to accumulate in the extracellular space but not in tumor or healthy cells, making it possible to demarcate tumor margins to guide resection. By evaluating the immune contexture of a number of freshly resected gliomas and brain metastases from patients undergoing SF-guided surgery, the authors recurrently observed fluorescence-positive cells. Therefore, the aim of this study was to determine if SF accumulates inside the cells of the tumor microenvironment (TME), and if so, in which type of cells, and whether incorporation can also be observed in the leukocytes of peripheral blood.

METHODS Freshly resected tumor specimens were dissociated to single cells and analyzed by multiparametric flow cytometry. Peripheral blood leukocytes, macrophages, and a glioma cell line were treated with SF in vitro, and their cell uptake was assessed by multiparametric and imaging flow cytometry and by confocal microscopy.

RESULTS The ex vivo and in vitro analyses revealed that SF accumulates intracellularly in leukocytes as well as in tumor cells, but with a high variability of incorporation in the different cell subsets analyzed. Myeloid cells showed the highest level of fluorescence. In vitro uptake experiments showed that SF accumulation increases over time. The imaging analyses confirmed the internalization of the compound inside the cells.

CONCLUSIONS SF is not just a marker of BBB damage, but its intracellular detection suggests that it selectively accumulates intracellularly. Future efforts should target the mechanisms of its differential uptake by the different TME cell types in depth.