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J Nucl Med. 1999 Jan;40(1):184-91.

Imaging of apoptosis (programmed cell death) with 99mTc annexin V.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305, USA.


Apoptosis (programmed cell death) is a critical element in normal physiology and in many disease processes. Phosphatidylserine (PS), one component of cell membrane phospholipids, is normally confined to the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane. Early in the course of apoptosis, this phospholipid is rapidly exposed on the cell's outer surface. Annexin V, an endogenous human protein, has a high affinity for membrane-bound PS. This protein has been labeled with fluorescein and has been used to detect apoptosis in vitro. We describe the use of radiolabeled annexin V to detect apoptosis in vivo. The results are compared to histologic and flow cytometric methods to identify cells and tissues undergoing apoptosis.


Annexin V was coupled to hydrazinonicotinamide (HYNIC) and radiolabeled with 99mTc. Bioreactivity of 99mTc-HYNIC annexin V was compared with fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labeled annexin V in cultures of Jurkat T-cell lymphoblasts and in ex vivo thymic cell suspensions undergoing apoptosis in response to different stimuli. In addition, the uptake of FITC annexin V and 99mTc-HYNIC annexin V was studied in heat-treated necrotic Jurkat T-cell cultures. In vivo localization of annexin V was studied in Balb/c mice injected with 99mTc-HYNIC annexin V before and after induction of Fas-mediated hepatocyte apoptosis with intravenously administered antiFas antibody.


Membrane-bound radiolabeled annexin V activity linearly correlated to total fluorescence as observed by FITC annexin V flow cytometry in Jurkat T-cell cultures induced to undergo apoptosis in response to growth factor deprivation (N = 10, r2 = 0.987), antiFas antibody (N = 8, r2 = 0.836) and doxorubicin (N = 10, r2 = 0.804); and in ex vivo experiments on thymic cell suspensions with dexamethasone-induced apoptosis from Balb/c mice (N = 6, r2 = 0.989). Necrotic Jurkat T-cell cultures also demonstrated marked increases in radiopharmaceutical (4000-5000-fold) above control values. AntiFas antibody-treated Balb/c mice (N = 6) demonstrated a three-fold rise in hepatic uptake of annexin V (P < 0.0005) above control (N = 10), identified both by imaging and scintillation well counting. The increase in hepatic uptake in antiFas antibody-treated mice correlated to histologic evidence of fulminant hepatic apoptosis.


These data suggest that 99mTc-HYNIC annexin V can be used to image apoptotic and necrotic cell death in vivo.

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