Predicting the success of a radiopharmaceutical for in vivo imaging of central nervous system neuroreceptor systems

Dean F. Wong, Martin G. Pomper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In vivo imaging of the central nervous system (CNS) neuroreceptors in humans began was used in the early 1980s. Now, some twenty years later, the success of radiopharmaceutical imaging is still often one based on empiricism and serendipity. Nevertheless, a number of factors can be identified based on the robot experience in developing these radiotracers. This article will describe some of the issues that may be useful in choosing approaches to radiolabel ligands as future imaging agents of neuroreceptors, transporters and intrasynaptic measures of neurotransmitters. A description of the current process from hypothesis to radiochemical preclinical development, non-human primate imaging development of quantitative procedures finally leading to toxicology, dosimetry and eventually human applications are provided. The role of important factors including metabolism and lipophilicity, affinity and other factors for optimizing radiolabeling strategies is dealt with. Furthermore, issues involving decision making of how far to extend efforts in developing a radiotracer and when might be an appropriate stopping place are discussed. Finally some typical examples of the use of these radiotracers, especially with emphasis on stable drug design and development, are provided. These include occupancy studies and mechanism of action studies. In summary, the prediction of tracer success includes: first, identification of appropriate targets and precursors, then systematic optimization of ligands with continuous feedback from pharmacokinetics and iterative improvement based on unsuccessful tracers. This article is intended to present a pragmatic overview of the radiopharmaceutical development process with emphasis on the CNS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)350-362
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Imaging and Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2003


  • Neuroreceptors
  • Neurotransmitters
  • PET
  • Radiopharmaceutical
  • Radiotracer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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