Kinetic analysis of [18F] altanserin bolus injection in the canine brain using PET imaging
Currently, [18F] altanserin is the most frequently used PET-radioligand for serotonin2A (5-HT2A) receptor imaging in the human brain but has never been validated in dogs. In vivo imaging of this receptor in the canine brain could improve diagnosis and therapy of several behavioural disorders in dogs. Furthermore, since dogs are considered as a valuable animal model for human psychiatric disorders, the ability to image this receptor in dogs could help to increase our understanding of the pathophysiology of these diseases. Therefore, five healthy laboratory beagles underwent a 90-min dynamic PET scan with arterial blood sampling after [18F] altanserin bolus injection. Compartmental modelling using metabolite corrected arterial input functions was compared with reference tissue modelling with the cerebellum as reference region.
The distribution of [18F] altanserin in the canine brain corresponded well to the distribution of 5-HT2A receptors in human and rodent studies. The kinetics could be best described by a 2-Tissue compartment (2-TC) model. All reference tissue models were highly correlated with the 2-TC model, indicating compartmental modelling can be replaced by reference tissue models to avoid arterial blood sampling.
This study demonstrates that [18F] altanserin PET is a reliable tool to visualize and quantify the 5-HT2A receptor in the canine brain.
KeywordsCanine brain Kinetic modelling 5HT2a receptor Mood-disorders
One-tissue compartmental model
Two-tissue compartmental model
Anterior cingulate cortex
Akaike information criterion
Non-displaceable binding potential
End of synthesis
High pressure liquid chromatography
multilinear reference tissue model
2-parameter multilinear reference tissue model
Positron emission tomography
Regions of interest
Rotation per minute
Reference tissue model
2-step Simplified reference tissue model
Non-displaceable Volume of distribution
Total Volume of distribution
The G-protein coupled 5-HT2A receptor is the main excitatory serotonergic receptor in the brain [1, 2]. Studies in humans and rodents found the highest densities of 5-HT2A receptors in the cortex, mainly in frontal regions. The hippocampus and striatum exhibit lower densities of the receptor, while the cerebellum is virtually devoid of 5-HT2A receptors [1, 3, 4]. The receptor is also widely distributed in peripheral tissues, where it mediates platelet aggregation, capillary permeability and smooth muscle contraction [2, 5].
Besides its influence on numerous physiological functions, the 5-HT2A receptor is believed to be involved in the pathophysiology of several neurological and psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia [2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13]. Positron emission tomography (PET) is an interesting tool in brain imaging research, permitting the visualization of the 5-HT2A receptor in the living brain by using receptor specific radioligands [14, 15, 16]. In vivo study of this receptor is an important field of research as it improves our understanding of the various diseases in which the receptor is implicated. Although several PET radioligands for the 5-HT2A receptor have been evaluated, the clinical use of the majority of these radioligands is limited due to low selectivity or high nonspecific binding [17, 18]. Currently, the selective antagonist [18F] altanserin is the most frequently used PET radioligand for 5-HT2A receptor imaging. [18F] altanserin is characterised by a high brain uptake, high affinity (kd: 0.3 nM) and high selectivity towards the 5-HT2A receptor [19, 20, 21, 22]. In human neuroimaging, the in vivo formation of lipophilic radiolabeled metabolites that cross the blood brain barrier complicates kinetic modeling with this radiotracer [15, 17, 20, 21]. However, correction for these radiolabeled metabolites can be achieved by the application of a bolus-infusion protocol with equilibrium imaging  or by using a dual-input functional approach  but is not feasible in clinical routine. Besides in human clinical PET studies, [18F] Altanserin has been used in studies with baboons and rodents. Unlike in humans or baboons, only polar radiometabolites have been identified in rodents [1, 3, 21]. To the authors’ knowledge, PET imaging with [18F] Altanserin in dogs has never been demonstrated. However, since they show naturally occurring behavioral disorders which are related and possibly homologues to particular human psychiatric disorders, the dogs might present a valuable animal model for them [25, 26, 27, 28, 29]. In addition, dogs have a relatively large frontal cortex in comparison with rodents, which makes imaging studies of this region more feasible . Previously performed SPECT and psychopharmacological studies with dogs have already reported a potential involvement of the 5-HT2A receptor in impulsive aggression, pathological anxiety and other affective behavioral disorders [27, 28, 31, 32]. For example, a decreased binding potential of the 5-HT2A receptor in brain regions assumed to play an important role in the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders was reported in dogs with pathological anxiety . On the contrary, increased binding potential of the 5-HT2A receptor was found in dogs suffering from impulsive aggression . These findings emphasize the role of the 5-HT2A receptor in canine behavioral disorders. Using the advantages of PET imaging over other imaging techniques to study the 5-HT2A receptor in the dogs, its involvement in several behavioral disorders can be further investigated which could help to gain insight in the pathophysiology of certain canine behavioural disorders and would help to guide the treatment of these disorders.
The first objective of this study was to quantify [18F] altanserin binding in the canine brain using compartmental modelling and a metabolite corrected arterial input function. A second objective was to investigate whether compartmental modelling can be replaced by reference tissue modelling in future experiments, since this would avoid invasive arterial blood sampling and therefore facilitate application of the radiotracer in future studies.
[18F] altanserin was obtained after 70 min of synthesis with end of synthesis (EOS) activities of 3.14 ± 1.16 GBq (n = 5). High chemical and radiochemical purities of > 99% were achieved with a minimal specific activity of 100 GBq/μmol at EOS.
Blood input function and metabolites
The calculated BPND-values of [18F] altanserin in all of the ROIs using the reference tissue models (RTMs) (SRTM2, MRTM2 and Logan reference model) were plotted against those obtained with the 2-TC model (Figs. 4 and 5). The BPND values of the different reference tissue models were not statistically different from the 2-TC model in any of the ROI’s (p-values > 0.05) and showed a SEmax of 4.87%. Plotting the obtained BPND values using Bland-Altman plots a general underestimation of the BPND could be found for all RTM compared to the 2-TC model (5.63 ± 0.96% (Logan Reference), 6.57 ± 1.57% (MRTM2) and 6.92 ± 3.02% (SRTM2)) (Fig. 5). Nevertheless, all RTMS are highly correlated with the 2-TC model (R2(SRTM2) = 0.982, R2(Logan Reference) = 0.999, R2(MRTM2) = 0.999) (Fig. 5). Additionally, the Bland-Altman plots illustrate constant differences (%) between the BPND for the RTM and 2-TC model with increasing BPND-value.
Time stability of the parameters
When artificially shortening the dynamic scanning time to 60 min, BPND values showed a small reduction of 3.45 ± 2.18% using the 2-TC model and 1.72 ± 3.22% using the Logan Reference model. In contrast, the BPND values slightly increased when using the SRTM2 model (0.94 ± 2.1%) and MRTM 2 model (1.33 ± 3.33%).
Activity contrast of ROIs over the cerebellum for 20 min static scans
Presubgenual cingulate gyrus
0.94 ± 0.18
1.34 ± 0.23
1.46 ± 0.22
1.51 ± 0.22
Subgenual cingulate gyrus
1.01 ± 0.18
1.40 ± 0.22
1.50 ± 0.22
1.54 ± 0.22
Frontal cortex L
0.63 ± 0.10
0.92 ± 0.14
0.99 ± 0.14
1.00 ± 0.15
Frontal cortex R
0.56 ± 0.07
0.83 ± 0.11
0.91 ± 0.12
0.94 ± 0.14
Temporal cortex L
0.52 ± 0.11
0.73 ± 0.12
0.82 ± 0.23
0.77 ± 0.12
Temporal cortex R
0.46 ± 0.06
0.66 ± 0.09
0.70 ± 0.09
0.70 ± 0.10
Occipital cortex L
0.40 ± 0.09
0.55 ± 0.09
0.57 ± 0.08
0.56 ± 0.07
Occipital cortex R
0.37 ± 0.08
0.53 ± 0.07
0.55 ± 0.06
0.54 ± 0.05
Parietal cortex L
0.69 ± 0.16
0.95 ± 0.14
0.98 ± 0.15
0.97 ± 0.15
Parietal cortex R
0.71 ± 0.12
0.95 ± 0.13
0.99 ± 0.13
0.98 ± 0.13
0.78 ± 0.18
0.16 ± 0.23
1.26 ± 0.23
1.31 ± 0.23
0.41 ± 0.12
0.65 ± 0.14
0.70 ± 0.13
0.73 ± 0.13
Correlation to 2-TC model
To the authors knowledge, this is the first study that investigates the potential use of [18F] altanserin as PET-tracer to quantify the 5HT2A receptor density in dogs. The ability to quantify the 5HT2A receptor in the canine brain is of interest for both canine and human research, since it could improve diagnosis and therapy of behavioral and neuropsychiatric disorders in both species.
Highest radioactive uptake in all brain regions was detected 5 minutes after bolus injection of [18F] altanserin and was followed by a relative rapid washout. Time-activity curves were derived from the blood based PET data for all the ROI’s and are represented in Fig. 3. In accordance with studies in humans and rodents, the highest uptake of [18F] altanserin was found in the cortical regions. Lowest uptake was found in the cerebellum, supporting the absence of the 5HT2A receptors in the cerebellum and approving its use as reference region in RTMs (Fig. 2). In contrast, a rapid equilibrium was reached after bolus injection of [18F] altanserin compared to its very slow kinetics in humans (Fig. 3) [1, 3, 23].
Opposed to imaging studies in humans and baboons, moderate metabolism of [18F] altanserin with very low formation of lipophilic blood-brain barrier penetrating metabolites was observed [24, 33]. However, this is in agreement with rodent studies, were only polar metabolites have been reported . After 10 min, [18F] altanserin accounted for 86 ± 5.9% of total activity in the blood plasma and further decreased to 55 ± 4.9% at 90 min. One major un-identified polar metabolite (TR: t0) was found and accounted for 40.8 ± 4.09% of total radioactivity in blood plasma after 90 min scanning. Furthermore, two lipophilic metabolites were detected and could be identified as the known metabolite [18F] Altanserinol (TR: 8 min). Although previous studies with [18F] altanserin in humans and baboons reported up to 20% of certain lipophilic metabolites, in this study the two lipophilic metabolites together never transcended 2% of total radioactivity in plasma. Therefore, there is no need to use a dual-input function compartmental model for BBB permeable metabolites or apply a bolus-infusion protocol [24, 33].
Based on the data obtained with arterial blood sampling, VT-, BPND- and AIC-values derived from the 1-TC and 2-TC model were compared with each other. According to the excellent curve fitting and remarkable lower AIC-values in all of the ROIs, the 2-TC model was the compartmental model of choice for [18F]altanserin. Although the BPND-values obtained with the Logan plot were highly correlated with those from the 2-TC model (R2 = 0.979) and not significantly different from each other, a mean underestimation of 9.84 ± 1.93% compared to the 2-TC model should be kept in mind when using this graphical analysis.
Furthermore, BPND-values were estimated using three different RTMs (SRTM2, MRTM2 and Logan reference model) with the cerebellum as reference region and plotted against the compartmental model of choice, the 2-TC model (Fig. 5). Despite the general underestimation of the reference tissue models compared to the 2-TC model, illustrated by the Bland-Altman plots, (5.63 ± 0.96% (Logan Reference) 6.57 ± 1.57% (MRTM2) and 6.92 ± 3.02% (SRTM2)), all models were highly correlated with the 2TC-model (R2(SRTM2) = 0.982, R2(Logan Reference) = 0.999, R2(MRTM2) = 0.999) (Fig. 5). Moreover, no significant difference could be found between each of the different RTM and the 2-TC model (p-values > 0.05). This high correlation between the RTMs and 2-TC indicates that, in future experiments with [18F] altanserin in dogs, the invasive blood sampling can be replaced by RTMs, which requires no arterial catheterisation or blood sampling. Hereby, the MRTM2 model or the Logan reference tissue model would be the most appropriate, as they showed the highest correlation (R2 = 0.999) with the 2-TC model.
A shorter scanning time is always desirable for the wellbeing of the patient and can significantly increase the throughput of patients/animals per batch of radiotracer. Therefore, the possibility to reduce the scanning time to 60 min was investigated. Shortening the scan time to 60 min instead of 90 min yielded to stable outcomes with a mean bias of less than ±3.5% for both 2-TC model based on arterial input function and RTMs. A shorter scan time could be considered in future experiments, especially when using the SRTM2 or MRTM2 model. Finally, a semi-quantitative analysis using the contrast of radioactivity (kBq/cc) in each ROI, over the radioactivity (kBq/cc) in the reference region showed high correlation values with the 2-TC model for all considered intervals. Highest correlation was found in the interval 40 to 60 min post bolus injection (R2 = 0.997). Therefore, a 20 min static PET scan between 40 and 60 min post bolus injection of [18F] altanserin could be considered as an alternative method to further simplify the evaluation of 5HT2A receptor binding in future canine studies.
A limitation of this study was mentioned earlier by us and concerns the possible effects of the used anaesthetics on the kinetics of the PET tracer, in this case [18F] altanserin . However, the use of anaesthesia cannot be avoided in dogs undergoing PET-scans and a common anaesthesia protocol was used in our study. Since the use of anaesthetics during a PET scan with [18F] altanserin in dogs will be inevitable, our results are relevant for future studies. Another limitation of this study is the small number of animals that were included, due to animal welfare restrictions. However, despite the small sample size, highly similar results were found in the individual dogs, therefore, the authors believe that increasing the sample size would probably not provide additional information. Another concern is the fact that only female dogs were included in this study. It is known that pharmacokinetics and metabolism may differ between both sexes, possibly due to differences in sex hormones and other hormones [35, 36]. Therefore, all dogs were neutered before the start of the study. Finally, in order to help calculating the sample size of future PET studies with [18F] altanserin, the assessment of the test-retest variability can be performed in a future study.
In conclusion this first-in-dog study describes a first step in the visualization and quantification of the 5HT2A receptor in the canine brain after bolus injection of [18F]altanserin. A moderate metabolism with negligible formation of lipophilic blood-brain barrier penetrating metabolites of [18F] altanserin was observed. The study showed that [18F] altanserin follows two-tissue compartment kinetics in the canine brain. To avoid invasive blood sampling in future experiments, reference tissue models can be used instead of compartmental modelling, using the cerebellum as reference region. Furthermore, a shorter scan time (60 min) could be considered, especially when using the SRTM2 or MRTM2 model. In order to further simplify the evaluation of the 5HT2A receptor binding, the authors propose to perform a 20-min static PET scan between 40 and 60 min post bolus injection. This study is of great value as the ability to quantify the 5HT2A receptor in the canine brain could help to improve our understanding of the various canine and human diseases in which the receptor is implicated. Better knowledge of the underlying pathophysiology of these diseases can in turn improve diagnosis and treatment strategies.
The research project was authorized by the Ethical committee of Ghent university (EC approval 17/108) and all manipulations were performed according to good animal practice. Based on previous similar experiments performed in house, five neutered female laboratory beagles (4.7 ± 0.1 years; 11.8 ± 1.19 kg) were included in this project [34, 37]. All dogs were provided by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (Ghent University) and were considered to be healthy after general clinical examination. The dogs were fasted for at least 12 h before the start of the experiments but were allowed access to fresh water ad libitum. Following intramuscular (i.m.) premedication with dexmedetomidine (375 μg/m2 body surface area, Dexdomitor®, Orion Corporation, Espoo, Finland), the dogs were allowed to relax in a quiet dimmed room. At the PET centre, one of the cephalic veins was catheterized using a 22G over-the-needle catheter and a Lactated Ringer’s solution (Vetivex® 500 mL, Dechra Veterinary products, Heusden-Zolder, Belgium) was infused i.v. at a rate of 5 mL/kg/h. The general anaesthesia protocol was similar to the one used in the study of Pauwelyn et al. 2019 . In brief, anaesthesia was induced with propofol (Propovet®, Abbott laboratories, Queenborough, UK) administered intravenously (i.v.) to effect and maintained with isoflurane (Isoflo®, Abbott laboratories, Queenborough, UK) vaporized in oxygen. Subsequently, the dog was positioned on the bed of the PET/CT scanner and a 22G over-the-needle catheter was placed in one of the dorsalis pedis arteries to enable arterial blood sampling. Heart rate, respiratory rate, end tidal carbon dioxide concentration and arterial haemoglobin oxygen saturation were monitored by pulse oximeter and capnography.
The radiosynthesis of [18F] altanserin was performed on a Synthra RN+ module (Synthra GmbH, Hamburg, Germany) with 4 mg nitro-altanserin (ABX, Radeberg, Germany) dissolved in 750 μL anhydrous DMSO as precursor solution (Sigma Aldrich, Germany). Reaction conditions and purification methods were identical as described in Pauwelyn et al.  for the PET tracer [18F]MPPF.
First, a CT scan (120 kV, 35 mA, pitch of 0.7, 20 slices of 3 mm) was acquired, serving as anatomical framework and attenuation correction. Subsequently, each dog received a bolus injection of 352 ± 27.7 MBq (mean: 29.8 MBq/kg) [18F] altanserin, and was dynamically scanned with a Siemens Biograph mCT Flow 20 clinical PET/CT imaging system (Siemens, Knoxville, USA) during 90 min. The acquired PET data were reconstructed in 40 frames (12 × 10 s, 6 × 30 s, 10 × 60 s, 9 × 300 s, 3 × 600 s), each consisting of a 512 × 512 matrix with a voxel size of 0.797 × 0.797 × 2 mm, using the TrueX algorithm. All along the PET acquisition, manual arterial blood sampling was performed at 17 time points and collected in and in K3EDTA tubes (15, 30 and 45 s, 1, 1.5, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 15, 20, 30, 40, 60, 75 and 90 min). Calculating the plasma input curve and % metabolization was similar to previously reported methods [34, 37]. In short, after centrifugation (10 min, 4000 rpm, 4 °C) of the blood samples, radioactivity was measured in the plasma fraction using a gamma counter (Cobra©, Packard, Canberra, Australia) and corrected for decay. The fraction (%) of parent compound in the plasma and the presence of radiolabelled metabolites was measured using an isocratic HPLC method at six different time points (1, 4, 10, 30, 60 and 90 min). Acetonitrile (Sigma Aldrich, Saint Louis, US) (1:2) was added to the remaining plasma and centrifuged (10 min, 4000 rpm at 4 °C). 2 mL supernatant was injected onto a semipreparative HPLC system (Column: Symmetry Prep C18 column (7 μm, 7.8 mm × 300 mm, Waters, Milford, Massachusetts, US); Solvent: 0.05 M NaOAc buffer pH 5/MeOH/THF: 50/32/18 (V/V); flow: 3 mL/min). During 15 min, HPLC eluent was collected into 30 different fractions and was measured for radioactivity in a gamma counter (Cobra©, Packard, Canberra, Australia).
A 3 T Magnetom Trio Tim system MRI scanner (Siemens, Erlangen, Germany) was used to acquire T1 weighted anatomical images (3D MPRAGE sequence, 176 sagittal slices, TR: 2250 ms, TE: 4.18 ms, TI: 900 ms, parallel acquisition method = GRAPPA acceleration factor: 2, matrix size: 256 × 256, FOV: 220 mm, flip angle: 8 °, voxel size: 1 × 1 × 1 mm3). Thirteen regions of interest (ROI) were manually drawn on the MR image using the information of a dog brain atlas : left/right frontal cortex, left/right temporal cortex, left/right occipital cortex, left/right parietal cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus, posterior cingulate gyrus, subgenual cingulate gyrus, presubgenual cingulate gyrus and cerebellum. Afterwards, the MR images were co-registered with the acquired PET/CT images. As described in Pauwelyn et al. , for each of the ROIs, time-activity curves were retrieved, a Watabe function was fitted to the % metabolization curve for each dog individually and added to the corresponding plasma input function resulting in a metabolite-corrected plasma input function .
The total volume of distribution (VT), was calculated for the different ROIs using the one- and two-tissue compartment (1-TC and 2-TC) model  and the Logan plot  using PMOD software. The following equations describe how the VT can be calculated for 1-TC and 2-TC model from the obtained rate constants .
VND representing the volume of distribution of the non-displaceable radioligand.
Using the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) value, the goodness-of-fit for each compartment model was evaluated . In order to correct the brain activity for the contribution of plasma activity, the cerebral blood volume in the regions of interest was assumed to be 0.05 mL/cm3.
Three RTMs were considered: the 2-step simplified reference tissue model (SRTM2) , the 2 parameter multilinear reference tissue model (MRTM2)  and the Logan reference tissue model . The capability to reproduce the previous calculated BPND obtained with the Logan plot and the compartmental models with the RTMs were analysed. The BPND-values were calculated using a fixed k2’-value based on the mean k2’-value of seven high binding regions: presubgenual cingulate gyrus, subgenual cingulate gyrus, left/right frontal cortex L, left/right parietal cortex L, and ACC. For both the SRTM2 and Logan reference model, regional coupling with the SRTM2 model was used to calculate the k2’ value. For the MRTM2 model, the MRTM model was used to calculate the k2’-value.
This contrast was calculated by summing the time frames of four different 20-min intervals of the dynamic scan (10–30, 20–40, 30–50 and 40–60 min). Consequently, these values were plotted against the preferred compartmental model.
Statistical analysis was similar to previously reported analysis by Pauwelyn et al.  using RStudio 1.1.456 with packages MASS (version 7.3–50) and Sommer (version 3.0). In summary: A multivariate linear mixed model with heterogeneous (unstructured) variances was set up on the data, containing BPND as response variable and the delineated ROI’s as outcome variable. Furthermore, the kinetic models were set as fixed factor and the individual animals as random factor. Using the Welsh-Satterthwaite equation, the degrees of freedom could be calculated and the type-I error α was set at 0.05 and a random intercept was included. Pearson correlation coefficients (R2) were calculated in Microsoft Office Excel (Microsoft office 365, version 2018).
The authors would like to thank the cyclotron unit of Ghent University Hospital for their efforts.
Authors GP, LV, RD, KP, IP and FDV conceived the study and planned the design. PET scanning, animal handling and blood sampling was performed by GP, LV, RD, AD, TB, IP and FDV. GP and JV analysed the blood samples. Image analysis and kinetic modelling was performed by GP. Statistical analysis was done by RD. GP and LV manged the literature research and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. KP, CV, IP and FDV provided supervision and critical review of the manuscript. All authors contributed and approved the final version of the manuscript.
No funding was obtained for this study.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
This study was approved by the Ethical committee of Ghent university (EC approval 17/108) and all manipulations were performed according to good animal practice.
Consent for publication
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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