The macrophage-rich core of advanced human atheroma has been demonstrated to be hypoxic, which may have implications in plaque stability. The goal of this study was to determine the feasibility of the hypoxia PET imaging agent 64Cu-ATSM to detect hypoxia in a rabbit model of atherosclerosis imaged on a simultaneous PET/MR scanner, using MR for both attenuation correction and depiction of lesion location. Methods: New Zealand White rabbits fed a Western diet for 4-6 wk underwent endothelial denudation of the right femoral artery by air desiccation to induce an atherosclerotic-like lesion and underwent a sham operation on the left femoral artery. Four and 8 wk after injury, a 0- to 60-min dynamic whole-body PET/MR examination was performed after injection of approximately 111 MBq of 64Cu-ATSM. After 24 h, a 0- to 75-min dynamic PET/MR examination after injection of approximately 111 MBq of 18F-FDG was performed. The rabbits were euthanized, and the injured femoral artery (IF) and sham-operated femoral artery (SF) were collected for immunohistochemistry assessment of hypoxic macrophages (hypoxia marker pimonidazole, macrophage marker RAM-11, and hypoxia-inducible factor-1 α subunit [HIF-1α]). Regions of interest of IF, SF, and background muscle (BM) were drawn on fused PET/MR images, and IF-to-BM and SF-to-BM SUV ratios were compared using the Student t test. Results: Elevated uptake of 64Cu-ATSM was found in the rabbits' IF compared with the SF. 64Cu-ATSM imaging demonstrated IF-to-SF SUVmean ratios (±SD) of 1.75 ± 0.21 and 2.30 ± 0.26 at 4 and 8 wk after injury, respectively. 18F-FDG imaging demonstrated IF-to-SF SUVmean ratios of 1.84 ± 0.12 at 8 wk after injury. IF-to-BM SUVmean ratios were significantly higher (P < 0.001) than SF-to-BM SUVmean ratios both 4 and 8 wk after injury for 64Cu-ATSM and 8 wk after injury for 18F-FDG (P < 0.05). Pimonidazole immunohistochemistry at 8 wk colocalized to RAM-11 and HIF-1α. Conclusion: The results show that hypoxia is present in this rabbit model of atherosclerosis and suggest that 64Cu-ATSM PET/MR is a potentially promising method for the detection of hypoxic and potentially vulnerable atherosclerotic plaque in human subjects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2006-2011
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Nuclear Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Cu-ATSM
  • Hypoxic atherosclerosis
  • PET/MR
  • Rabbit model


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