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New Imaging ‘Tracer’ Shows Progression of Brain Inflammation

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Technology may offer tool for monitoring Alzheimer’s disease development and progression

Scientists report they have developed a new radioactive “tracer” to observe inflammation-related changes in the brain. They used the tool to monitor changes in Alzheimer’s disease model mice, suggesting it might one day be useful in diagnosing and monitoring the disease. This research was presented at Neuroscience 2014, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience and the world’s largest source of emerging news about brain science and health.

When brain cells become inflamed — as they do in patients with Alzheimer’s disease — immune cells called microglia increase the expression of a protein, known as TSPO. The researchers developed a “tracer” molecule called [18F] - GE180 that binds to TSPO and can be imaged with positron emission tomography (PET) technology.

In this new study, scientists injected the TSPO tracer into the bloodstream of mice and then performed a PET scan for each animal. They found that the tracer showed much more activity in the brains of Alzheimer’s-like mice than in the brains of non-diseased mice, specifically in the cortex and hippocampus, brain regions deeply involved with memory. This suggests that the new TSPO tracer may one day be a useful tool for following progression of this disease and others affected by neuroinflammation .

“One of the advantages of this new tracer is that it has high uptake and very specific binding in the brain,” said senior author Cynthia Lemere, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. “That makes it particularly helpful, for it means we’re actually observing the tracer’s signals during the PET scan and not signals from other molecules unrelated to inflammation.”

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Society for Neuroscience press release