2-[C-11]thymidine imaging of malignant brain tumors

Janet F. Eary, David A. Mankoff, Alexander M. Spence, Mitchel S. Berger, Adam Olshen, Jeanne M. Link, Finbarr O'Sullivan, Kenneth A. Krohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


Malignant brain tumors pose diagnostic and therapeutic problems. Despite the advent of new brain imaging modalities, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and [F-18]fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography (PET), determination of tumor viability and response to treatment is often difficult. Blood-brain barrier disruption can be caused by tumor or nonspecific reactions to treatment, making MRI interpretation ambiguous. The high metabolic background of the normal brain and its regional variability makes it difficult to identify small or less active tumors by FDG imaging of cellular energetics. We have investigated 2-[C-11]thymidine (dThd) and PET to image the rate of brain tumor cellular proliferation. A series of 13 patients underwent closely spaced dThd PET, FDG PET, and MRI procedures, and the image results were compared by standardized visual analysis. The resulting dThd scans were qualitatively different from the other two scans in approximately 50% of the cases, which suggests that dThd provided information distinct from FDG PET and MRI. In two cases, recurrent tumor was more apparent on the dThd study than on FDG; in two other patients, tumor dThd uptake was less than FDG uptake, and these patients had slower tumor progression than the three patients with both high dThd and FDG uptake. To better characterize tumor proliferation, kinetic modeling was applied to dynamic dThd PET uptake data and metabolite-analyzed blood data in a subset of patients. Kinetic analysis was able to remove the confounding influence of [C-11]CO2, the principal labeled metabolite of 2-[C-11]dThd, and to estimate the flux of dThd incorporation into DNA. Sequential, same-day [C-11]CO2 and [C-11]dThd imaging demonstrated the ability of kinetic analysis to model both dThd and CO2 simultaneously. Images of dThd flux obtained using the model along with the mixture analysis method for pixel-by-pixel parametric imaging significantly enhanced the contrast of tumor compared with normal brain. Comparison of model estimates of dThd transport versus dThd flux was able to discern increased dThd uptake simply on the basis of blood-brain barrier disruption from retention on the basis of increased cellular proliferation. This preliminary study demonstrates the potential for imaging brain tumor cellular proliferation to provide unique information for guiding patient treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-621
Number of pages7
JournalCancer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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