Assessment of cardiac sympathetic neuronal function using PET imaging

Frank M Bengel, Markus Schwaiger
Journal of Nuclear Cardiology 2004, 11 (5): 603-16
The autonomic nervous system plays a key role for regulation of cardiac performance, and the importance of alterations of innervation in the pathophysiology of various heart diseases has been increasingly emphasized. Nuclear imaging techniques have been established that allow for global and regional investigation of the myocardial nervous system. The guanethidine analog iodine 123 metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) has been introduced for scintigraphic mapping of presynaptic sympathetic innervation and is available today for imaging on a broad clinical basis. Not much later than MIBG, positron emission tomography (PET) has also been established for characterizing the cardiac autonomic nervous system. Although PET is methodologically demanding and less widely available, it provides substantial advantages. High spatial and temporal resolution along with routinely available attenuation correction allows for detailed definition of tracer kinetics and makes noninvasive absolute quantification a reality. Furthermore, a series of different radiolabeled catecholamines, catecholamine analogs, and receptor ligands are available. Those are often more physiologic than MIBG and well understood with regard to their tracer physiologic properties. PET imaging of sympathetic neuronal function has been successfully applied to gain mechanistic insights into myocardial biology and pathology. Available tracers allow dissection of processes of presynaptic and postsynaptic innervation contributing to cardiovascular disease. This review summarizes characteristics of currently available PET tracers for cardiac neuroimaging along with the major findings derived from their application in health and disease.

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