, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 443-452

Positron emission tomography imaging of neuroinflammation


In the diseased brain, upon activation microglia express binding sites for synthetic ligands designed to recognize the 18-kDa translocator protein TP-18, which is part of the so-called peripheral benzodiazepine receptor complex. PK11195 [1-(2-chlorophenyl)-N-methyl-N- (1-methylpropyl)-3-isoquinoline carboxamide], the prototype synthetic ligand, has been widely used for the functional characterization of TP-18. Its cellular source in activated microglia has been established using high-resolution, single-cell autoradiography with the R-enantiomer [3H](R)-PK11195. Radiolabeled [11C](R)-PK11195 has been used to image active brain disease with positron emission tomography. Consistent with experimental and postmortem observations of a characteristically distributed pattern of microglia activation in areas of focal pathology, as well as in anterograde and retrograde projection areas, the in vivo regional [11C](R)-PK11195 signal is found in active focal lesions and over time also along the affected neural tracts and their respective cortical and subcortical projection areas. Thus, a profile of active disease emerges that matches some of the typical distribution patterns known from structural neuroimaging techniques, but additionally shows involvement of brain regions linked through neural pathways. In the context of cell-based in vivo neuropathology, the image data are thus best interpreted in the context of the emerging cellular understanding of brain disease or damage, rather than the definitions of clinical diagnosis. One important observation, borne out by experiment, is the long latency with which activated microglia or increased PK11195 retention appear to gradually emerge and remain in distal areas secondarily affected by disease, supporting speculations that the presence of activated microglia is an important corollary of brain plasticity.