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Med Res Rev. 2018 Sep;38(6):1713-1768. doi: 10.1002/med.21495. Epub 2018 Mar 12.

Avenues to molecular imaging of dying cells: Focus on cancer.

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Molecular Imaging Center, Department of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.
Department of Genetics, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.
Department of Clinical Pharmacy & Pharmacology, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.
Department of Medical Oncology, University of Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.
Department of Nuclear Medicine, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.


Successful treatment of cancer patients requires balancing of the dose, timing, and type of therapeutic regimen. Detection of increased cell death may serve as a predictor of the eventual therapeutic success. Imaging of cell death may thus lead to early identification of treatment responders and nonresponders, and to "patient-tailored therapy." Cell death in organs and tissues of the human body can be visualized, using positron emission tomography or single-photon emission computed tomography, although unsolved problems remain concerning target selection, tracer pharmacokinetics, target-to-nontarget ratio, and spatial and temporal resolution of the scans. Phosphatidylserine exposure by dying cells has been the most extensively studied imaging target. However, visualization of this process with radiolabeled Annexin A5 has not become routine in the clinical setting. Classification of death modes is no longer based only on cell morphology but also on biochemistry, and apoptosis is no longer found to be the preponderant mechanism of cell death after antitumor therapy, as was earlier believed. These conceptual changes have affected radiochemical efforts. Novel probes targeting changes in membrane permeability, cytoplasmic pH, mitochondrial membrane potential, or caspase activation have recently been explored. In this review, we discuss molecular changes in tumors which can be targeted to visualize cell death and we propose promising biomarkers for future exploration.


apoptosis; early treatment response; necrosis; positron emission tomography (PET); single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT)

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