Human gene therapy and imaging in neurological diseases
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Molecular imaging aims to assess non-invasively disease-specific biological and molecular processes in animal models and humans in vivo. Apart from precise anatomical localisation and quantification, the most intriguing advantage of such imaging is the opportunity it provides to investigate the time course (dynamics) of disease-specific molecular events in the intact organism. Further, molecular imaging can be used to address basic scientific questions, e.g. transcriptional regulation, signal transduction or protein/protein interaction, and will be essential in developing treatment strategies based on gene therapy. Most importantly, molecular imaging is a key technology in translational research, helping to develop experimental protocols which may later be applied to human patients. Over the past 20 years, imaging based on positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been employed for the assessment and “phenotyping” of various neurological diseases, including cerebral ischaemia, neurodegeneration and brain gliomas. While in the past neuro-anatomical studies had to be performed post mortem, molecular imaging has ushered in the era of in vivo functional neuro-anatomy by allowing neuroscience to image structure, function, metabolism and molecular processes of the central nervous system in vivo in both health and disease. Recently, PET and MRI have been successfully utilised together in the non-invasive assessment of gene transfer and gene therapy in humans. To assess the efficiency of gene transfer, the same markers are being used in animals and humans, and have been applied for phenotyping human disease. Here, we review the imaging hallmarks of focal and disseminated neurological diseases, such as cerebral ischaemia, neurodegeneration and glioblastoma multiforme, as well as the attempts to translate gene therapy’s experimental knowledge into clinical applications and the way in which this process is being promoted through the use of novel imaging approaches.