Date of Graduation


Document Type

Dissertation (PhD)

Program Affiliation

Biomedical Sciences

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Wadih Arap, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Russell R. Broaddus, M.D., Ph.D.

Committee Member

Frederick F. Lang, M.D.

Committee Member

Renata Pasqualini, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Richard L. Sidman, M.D.


Treatment of central nervous system (CNS) diseases is limited by the blood-brain barrier (BBB), a selective vascular interface restricting passage of most molecules from blood into brain. Specific transport systems have evolved allowing circulating polar molecules to cross the BBB and gain access to the brain parenchyma. However, to date, few ligands exploiting such systems have proven clinically viable in the setting of CNS diseases.

We reasoned that combinatorial phage-display screenings in vivo would yield peptides capable of crossing the BBB and allow for the development of ligand-directed targeting strategies of the brain. Here we show the identification of a peptide mediating systemic targeting to the normal brain and to an orthotopic human glioma model. We demonstrate that this peptide functionally mimics iron through an allosteric mechanism and that a non-canonical association of (i) transferrin, (ii) the iron-mimic ligand motif, and (iii) transferrin receptor mediates binding and transport of particles across the BBB. We also show that in orthotopic human glioma xenografts, a combination of transferrin receptor over-expression plus extended vascular permeability and ligand retention result in remarkable brain tumor targeting. Moreover, such tumor targeting attributes enables Herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase-mediated gene therapy of intracranial tumors for molecular genetic imaging and suicide gene delivery with ganciclovir. Finally, we expand our data by analyzing a large panel of primary CNS tumors through comprehensive tissue microarrays. Together, our approach and results provide a translational avenue for the detection and treatment of brain tumors.


Glioblastoma, angiogenesis, gene therapy, HSVtk, phage display, molecular imaging