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Theranostics. 2015 Feb 20;5(6):559-82. doi: 10.7150/thno.11548. eCollection 2015.

Molecular imaging of apoptosis: from micro to macro.

Author information

1. School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, and Molecular Imaging Research Centre, Central South University, Changsha, 410013, China;
2. Centre for Molecular Imaging and Translational Medicine, State Key Laboratory of Molecular Vaccinology and Molecular Diagnostics, School of Public Health, Xiamen University, Xiamen, 361102, China.
3. Laboratory of Molecular Imaging and Nanomedicine, National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, 20892, USA.


Apoptosis, or programmed cell death, is involved in numerous human conditions including neurodegenerative diseases, ischemic damage, autoimmune disorders and many types of cancer, and is often confused with other types of cell death. Therefore strategies that enable visualized detection of apoptosis would be of enormous benefit in the clinic for diagnosis, patient management, and development of new therapies. In recent years, improved understanding of the apoptotic machinery and progress in imaging modalities have provided opportunities for researchers to formulate microscopic and macroscopic imaging strategies based on well-defined molecular markers and/or physiological features. Correspondingly, a large collection of apoptosis imaging probes and approaches have been documented in preclinical and clinical studies. In this review, we mainly discuss microscopic imaging assays and macroscopic imaging probes, ranging in complexity from simple attachments of reporter moieties to proteins that interact with apoptotic biomarkers, to rationally designed probes that target biochemical changes. Their clinical translation will also be our focus.


Apoptosis; Clinical translation.; Macroscopic imaging probes; Microscopic imaging assays

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