PET imaging of the autonomic nervous system

James T. Thackeray, Frank M. Bengel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The autonomic nervous system is the primary extrinsic control of heart rate and contractility, and is subject to adaptive and maladaptive changes in cardiovascular disease. Consequently, noninvasive assessment of neuronal activity and function is an attractive target for molecular imaging. A myriad of targeted radiotracers have been developed over the last 25 years for imaging various components of the sympathetic and parasympathetic signal cascades. While routine clinical use remains somewhat limited, a number of larger scale studies in recent years have supplied momentum to molecular imaging of autonomic signaling. Specifically, the findings of the ADMIRE HF trial directly led to United States Food and Drug Administration approval of 123I-metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) for Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) assessment of sympathetic neuronal innervation, and comparable results have been reported using the analogous PET agent 11C-meta-hydroxyephedrine (HED). Due to the inherent capacity for dynamic quantification and higher spatial resolution, regional analysis may be better served by PET. In addition, preliminary clinical and extensive preclinical experience has provided a broad foundation of cardiovascular applications for PET imaging of the autonomic nervous system. Recent years have witnessed the growth of novel quantification techniques, expansion of multiple tracer studies, and improved understanding of the uptake of different radiotracers, such that the transitional biology of dysfunctional subcellular catecholamine handling can be distinguished from complete denervation. As a result, sympathetic neuronal molecular imaging is poised to play a role in individualized patient care, by stratifying cardiovascular risk, visualizing underlying biology, and guiding and monitoring therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-382
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Journal of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2016


  • Adrenergic
  • Molecular imaging
  • Norepinephrine
  • Parasympathetic nervous system
  • Receptors
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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