Research Article

Molecular Imaging and Biology

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 163-171

First online:

Targeting Apoptosis for Optical Imaging of Infection

  • Mathew L. ThakurAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University Email author 
  • , Kaijun ZhangAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University
  • , Bishnuhari PaudyalAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University
  • , Devadhas DevakumarAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, Thomas Jefferson University
  • , Maria Y. CovarrubiasAffiliated withBioimaging, Kimmel Cancer Center, Thomas Jefferson University
  • , Changpo ChengAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry Molecular Biology, Thomas Jefferson University
  • , Brian D. GrayAffiliated withMolecular Targeting Technologies, Inc
  • , Eric WickstromAffiliated withDepartment of Biochemistry Molecular Biology, Thomas Jefferson University
  • , Koon Y. PakAffiliated withMolecular Targeting Technologies, Inc

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Infection is ubiquitous and a major cause of morbidity and mortality. The most reliable method for localizing infection requires radiolabeling autologous white blood cells ex vivo. A compound that can be injected directly into a patient and can selectively image infectious foci will eliminate the drawbacks. The resolution of infection is associated with neutrophil apoptosis and necrosis presenting phosphatidylserine (PS) on the neutrophil outer leaflet. Targeting PS with intravenous administration of a PS-specific, near-infrared (NIR) fluorophore will permit localization of infectious foci by optical imaging.


Bacterial infection and sterile inflammation were induced in separate groups (n = 5) of mice. PS was targeted with a NIR fluorophore, PSVue®794 (2.7 pmol). Imaging was performed (ex = 730 nm, em = 830 nm) using Kodak Multispectral FX-Pro system. The contralateral normal thigh served as an individualized control. Confocal microscopy of normal and apoptotic neutrophils and bacteria confirmed PS specificity.


Lesions, with a 10-s image acquisition, were unequivocally visible at 5 min post-injection. At 3 h post-injection, the lesion to background intensity ratios in the foci of infection (6.6 ± 0.2) were greater than those in inflammation (3.2 ± 0.5). Image fusions confirmed anatomical locations of the lesions. Confocal microscopy determined the fluorophore specificity for PS.


Targeting PS presented on the outer leaflet of apoptotic or necrotic neutrophils as well as gram-positive microorganism with PS-specific NIR fluorophore provides a sensitive means of imaging infection. Literature indicates that NIR fluorophores can be detected 7–14 cm deep in tissue. This observation together with the excellent results and the continued development of versatile imaging devices could make optical imaging a simple, specific, and rapid modality for imaging infection.

Key words

Infection imaging PSVue®794 Optical imaging Confocal microscopy Apoptotic neutrophils