Gene expression and gene therapy imaging
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The fast growing field of molecular imaging has achieved major advances in imaging gene expression, an important element of gene therapy. Gene expression imaging is based on specific probes or contrast agents that allow either direct or indirect spatio-temporal evaluation of gene expression. Direct evaluation is possible with, for example, contrast agents that bind directly to a specific target (e.g., receptor). Indirect evaluation may be achieved by using specific substrate probes for a target enzyme. The use of marker genes, also called reporter genes, is an essential element of MI approaches for gene expression in gene therapy. The marker gene may not have a therapeutic role itself, but by coupling the marker gene to a therapeutic gene, expression of the marker gene reports on the expression of the therapeutic gene. Nuclear medicine and optical approaches are highly sensitive (detection of probes in the picomolar range), whereas MRI and ultrasound imaging are less sensitive and require amplification techniques and/or accumulation of contrast agents in enlarged contrast particles. Recently developed MI techniques are particularly relevant for gene therapy. Amongst these are the possibility to track gene therapy vectors such as stem cells, and the techniques that allow spatiotemporal control of gene expression by non-invasive heating (with MRI guided focused ultrasound) and the use of temperature sensitive promoters.