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PLoS One. 2010 Oct 11;5(10):e13300. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013300.

Cerenkov radiation energy transfer (CRET) imaging: a novel method for optical imaging of PET isotopes in biological systems.

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  • 1BRIGHT Institute, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America.



Positron emission tomography (PET) allows sensitive, non-invasive analysis of the distribution of radiopharmaceutical tracers labeled with positron (β(+))-emitting radionuclides in small animals and humans. Upon β(+) decay, the initial velocity of high-energy β(+) particles can momentarily exceed the speed of light in tissue, producing Cerenkov radiation that is detectable by optical imaging, but is highly absorbed in living organisms.


To improve optical imaging of Cerenkov radiation in biological systems, we demonstrate that Cerenkov radiation from decay of the PET isotopes (64)Cu and (18)F can be spectrally coupled by energy transfer to high Stokes-shift quantum nanoparticles (Qtracker705) to produce highly red-shifted photonic emissions. Efficient energy transfer was not detected with (99m)Tc, a predominantly γ-emitting isotope. Similar to bioluminescence resonance energy transfer (BRET) and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), herein we define the Cerenkov radiation energy transfer (CRET) ratio as the normalized quotient of light detected within a spectral window centered on the fluorophore emission divided by light detected within a spectral window of the Cerenkov radiation emission to quantify imaging signals. Optical images of solutions containing Qtracker705 nanoparticles and [(18)F]FDG showed CRET ratios in vitro as high as 8.8±1.1, while images of mice with subcutaneous pseudotumors impregnated with Qtracker705 following intravenous injection of [(18)F]FDG showed CRET ratios in vivo as high as 3.5±0.3.


Quantitative CRET imaging may afford a variety of novel optical imaging applications and activation strategies for PET radiopharmaceuticals and other isotopes in biomaterials, tissues and live animals.

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