18 F-FAC PET Visualizes Brain-Infiltrating Leukocytes in a Mouse Model of Multiple Sclerosis


Brain-infiltrating leukocytes contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) and autoimmune encephalomyelitis and likely play a role in traumatic brain injury, seizure, and stroke. Brain-infiltrating leukocytes are also primary targets for MS disease-modifying therapies. However, no method exists for noninvasively visualizing these cells in a living organism. 1-(2′-deoxy-2′-18F-fluoroarabinofuranosyl) cytosine (18F-FAC) is a PET radiotracer that measures deoxyribonucleoside salvage and accumulates preferentially in immune cells. We hypothesized that 18F-FAC PET could noninvasively image brain-infiltrating leukocytes.

Methods: Healthy mice were imaged with 18F-FAC PET to quantify if this radiotracer crosses the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) is a mouse disease model with brain-infiltrating leukocytes. To determine whether 18F-FAC accumulates in brain-infiltrating leukocytes, EAE mice were analyzed with 18F-FAC PET, digital autoradiography, and immunohistochemistry, and deoxyribonucleoside salvage activity in brain-infiltrating leukocytes was analyzed ex vivo. Fingolimod-treated EAE mice were imaged with 18F-FAC PET to assess if this approach can monitor the effect of an immunomodulatory drug on brain-infiltrating leukocytes. PET scans of individuals injected with 2-chloro-2′-deoxy-2′-18F-fluoro-9-β-d-arabinofuranosyl-adenine (18F-CFA), a PET radiotracer that measures deoxyribonucleoside salvage in humans, were analyzed to evaluate whether 18F-CFA crosses the human BBB.

Results: 18F-FAC accumulates in the healthy mouse brain at levels similar to 18F-FAC in the blood (2.54 ± 0.2 and 3.04 ± 0.3 percentage injected dose per gram, respectively) indicating that 18F-FAC crosses the BBB. EAE mice accumulate 18F-FAC in the brain at 180% of the levels of control mice. Brain 18F-FAC accumulation localizes to periventricular regions with significant leukocyte infiltration, and deoxyribonucleoside salvage activity is present at similar levels in brain-infiltrating T and innate immune cells. These data suggest that 18F-FAC accumulates in brain-infiltrating leukocytes in this model. Fingolimod-treated EAE mice accumulate 18F-FAC in the brain at 37% lower levels than control-treated EAE mice, demonstrating that 18F-FAC PET can monitor therapeutic interventions in this mouse model. 18F-CFA accumulates in the human brain at 15% of blood levels (0.08 ± 0.01 and 0.54 ± 0.07 SUV, respectively), indicating that 18F-CFA does not cross the BBB in humans.

Conclusion: 18F-FAC PET can visualize brain-infiltrating leukocytes in a mouse MS model and can monitor the response of these cells to an immunomodulatory drug. Translating this strategy into humans will require exploring additional radiotracers.

Published May 1, 2020 // Journal of Nuclear Medicine 61(5):757-763.

View publication: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198381/