Molecular imaging is broadly defined as the characterization and measurement of biological processes in living animals, model systems, and humans at the cellular and molecular level using remote imaging detectors. One underlying premise of molecular imaging is that this emerging field is not defined by the imaging technologies that underpin acquisition of the final image per se, but rather is driven by the underlying biological questions. In practice, the choice of imaging modality and probe is usually reduced to choosing between high spatial resolution and high sensitivity to address a given biological system. Positron emission tomography (PET) and single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) inherently use image-enhancing agents (radiopharmaceuticals) that are synthesized at sufficiently high specific activity to enable use of tracer concentrations of the compound (picomolar to nanomolar) for detecting molecular signals while providing the desired levels of image contrast. The tracer technologies strategically provide high sensitivity for imaging small-capacity molecular systems in vivo (receptors, enzymes, transporters) at a cost of lower spatial resolution than other technologies. We review several significant PET and SPECT advances in imaging receptors (somatostatin receptor subtypes, neurotensin receptor subtypes, αvβ3 integrin), enzymes (hexokinase, thymidine kinase), transporters (MDR1 P-glycoprotein, sodium-iodide symporter), and permeation peptides (human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) Tat conjugates), as well as innovative reporter gene constructs (herpes simplex virus 1 thymidine kinase, somatostatin receptor subtype 2, cytosine deaminase) for imaging gene promoter activation and repression, signal transduction pathways, and protein-protein interactions in vivo.
- Positron emission tomography
- Protein-protein interactions
- Reporter gene
- Single-photon emission computed tomography
- Thymidine kinase