Longitudinal imaging of T-cells and inflammatory demyelination in a preclinical model of multiple sclerosis using 18 F-FAraG PET and MRI

Caroline Guglielmetti, Jelena Levi, Tony L Huynh, Brice Tiret, Joseph Blecha, Ryan Tang, Henry F Van Brocklin, Myriam M Chaumeil
Journal of Nuclear Medicine 2021 April 9
Lymphocytes and innate immune cells are key drivers of multiple sclerosis (MS) and are the main target of MS disease modifying therapies (DMT). Ex vivo analyses of MS lesions have revealed cellular heterogeneity and variable T-cell levels, which may have important implication for patient stratification and choice of DMT. Although magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has proven valuable to monitor DMT efficacy, its lack of specificity for cellular subtypes highlights the need for complementary methods to improve lesion characterization. Here, we evaluated the potential of 2'-deoxy-2'-[18 F]fluoro-9-β-D-arabinofuranosylguanine (18 F-FAraG) PET imaging to non-invasively assess infiltrating T-cells and to provide, in combination with MRI, a novel tool to determine lesion types. Methods: We used a novel MS mouse model that combines cuprizone and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) to reproducibly induce two brain inflammatory lesion types, differentiated by their T-cell content. 18 F-FAraG PET imaging, T2-weighted MRI, and T1-weighted contrast-enhanced MRI were performed prior to disease induction, during demyelination with high levels of innate immune cells, and following T-cell infiltration. Fingolimod immunotherapy was used to evaluate the ability of PET and MRI to detect therapy response. Ex vivo immunofluorescence analyses for T-cells, microglia/macrophages, myelin and blood brain barrier (BBB) integrity were performed to validate the in vivo findings. Results: 18 F-FAraG signal was significantly increased in brain and spinal cord at the time point of T-cell infiltration. 18 F-FAraG signal from white matter (corpus callosum), and grey matter (cortex, hippocampus) further correlated with T-cell density. T2-weighted MRI detected white matter lesions independently of T-cells. T1-weighted contrast-enhanced MRI indicated BBB disruption at the time point of T-cell infiltration. Fingolimod treatment prevented motor deficits and decreased T-cell and microglia/macrophage levels. In agreement, 18 F-FAraG signal was decreased in brain and spinal cord of Fingolimod-treated mice, T1-weighted contrast-enhanced MRI revealed intact BBB, while T2-weighted MRI remained unchanged. Conclusion: The combination of MRI and 18 F-FAraG PET enables detection of inflammatory demyelination and T-cell infiltration in a MS mouse model, providing a new way to evaluate lesion heterogeneity during disease progression and following DMT. Upon clinical translation, these methods hold great potential for patient stratification, monitoring MS progression and therapy responses.

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