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Int Immunol. 2009 Feb;21(2):155-65. doi: 10.1093/intimm/dxn133. Epub 2008 Dec 23.

Quantitative PET reporter gene imaging of CD8+ T cells specific for a melanoma-expressed self-antigen.

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Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1662, USA.


Adoptive transfer (AT) T-cell therapy provides significant clinical benefits in patients with advanced melanoma. However, approaches to non-invasively visualize the persistence of transferred T cells are lacking. We examined whether positron emission tomography (PET) can monitor the distribution of self-antigen-specific T cells engineered to express an herpes simplex virus 1 thymidine kinase (sr39tk) PET reporter gene. Micro-PET imaging using the sr39tk-specific substrate 9-[4-[(18)F]fluoro-3-(hydroxymethyl)-butyl]guanine ([(18)F]FHBG) enabled the detection of transplanted T cells in secondary lymphoid organs of recipient mice over a 3-week period. Tumor responses could be predicted as early as 3 days following AT when a >25-fold increase of micro-PET signal in the spleen and 2-fold increase in lymph nodes (LNs) were observed in mice receiving combined immunotherapy versus control mice. The lower limit of detection was approximately 7 x 10(5) T cells in the spleen and 1 x 10(4) T cells in LNs. Quantification of transplanted T cells in the tumor was hampered by the sr39tk-independent trapping of [(18)F]FHBG within the tumor architecture. These data support the feasibility of using PET to visualize the expansion, homing and persistence of transferred T cells. PET may have significant clinical utility by providing the means to quantify anti-tumor T cells throughout the body and provide early correlates for treatment efficacy.

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