Brain PET and functional MRI: Why simultaneously using hybrid PET/MR systems?

Diego Cecchin, Alessandro Palombit, Marco Castellaro, Erica Silvestri, Franco Bui, Henryk Barthel, Osama Sabri, Maurizio Corbetta, Alessandra Bertoldo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


INTRODUCTION: In the last 20 years growing attention has been devoted to multimodal imaging. The recent literature is rich of clinical and research studies that have been performed using different imaging modalities on both separate and integrated positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance (MR) scanners. However, today, hybrid PET/MR systems measure signals related to brain structure, metabolism, neurochemistry, perfusion, and neuronal activity simultaneously, i.e. in the same physiological conditions. A frequently raised question at meeting and symposia is: "Do we really need a hybrid PET/MR system? Are there any advantages over acquiring sequential and separate PET and MR scans?" The present paper is an attempt to answer these questions specifically in relation to PET combined with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and arterial spin labeling. EVIDENCE ACQUISITION: We searched (last update: June 2017) the databases PubMed, PMC, Google Scholar and Medline. We also included additional studies if they were cited in the selected articles. No language restriction was applied to the search, but the reviewed articles were all in English. Among all the retrieved articles, we selected only those performed using a hybrid PET/MR system. We found a total of 17 papers that were selected and discussed in three main groups according to the main radiopharmaceutical used: 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) (N.=8), 15O-water (15O-H2O) (N.=3) and neuroreceptors (N.=6). EVIDENCE SYNTHESIS: Concerning studies using 18F-FDG, simultaneous PET/fMRI revealed that global aspects of functional organization (e.g. graph properties of functional connections) are partially associated with energy consumption. There are remarkable spatial and functional similarities across modalities, but also discrepant findings. More work is needed on this point. There are only a handful of papers comparing blood flow measurements with PET 15O-H2O and MR arterial spin label (ASL) measures, and they show significant regional CBF differences between these two modalities. However, at least in one study the correlation at the level of gray, white matter, and whole brain is rather good (r=0.94, 0.8, 0.81 respectively). Finally, receptor studies show that simultaneous PET/fMRI could be a useful tool to characterize functional connectivity along with dynamic neuroreceptor adaptation in several physiological (e.g. working memory) or pathological (e.g. pain) conditions, with or without drug administrations. CONCLUSIONS: The simultaneous acquisition of PET (using a number of radiotracers) and functional MRI (using a number of sequences) offers exciting opportunities that we are just beginning to explore. The results thus far are promising in the evaluation of cerebral metabolism/flow, neuroreceptor adaptation, and network's energetic demand.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-359
Number of pages15
JournalQuarterly Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2017


  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Positron-emission tomography
  • Sensory receptor cells


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