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Molecular PET and PET/CT imaging of tumour cell proliferation using F-18 fluoro-L-thymidine: a comprehensive evaluation

Barwick, Taraa; Bencherif, Badreddinec; Mountz, James M.c; Avril, Norbertb

Nuclear Medicine Communications: December 2009 - Volume 30 - Issue 12 - p 908-917
doi: 10.1097/MNM.0b013e32832ee93b
Review Article

Positron emission tomography (PET) using F-18 fluoro-3′-deoxy-3-L-fluorothymidine (FLT) offers noninvasive assessment of cell proliferation in vivo. The most important application refers to the evaluation of tumour proliferative activity, representing a key feature of malignancy. Most data to date suggest that FLT is not a suitable biomarker for staging of cancers. This is because of the rather low fraction of tumour cells that undergo replication at a given time with subsequently relatively low tumour FLT uptake. In addition, generally, the high FLT uptake in liver and bone marrow limits the diagnostic use. We describe the current status on preclinical and clinical applications of FLT-PET including our own experience in brain tumours. The future of FLT-PET probably lies in the evaluation of tumour response to therapy and more importantly, in the prediction of early response in the course of treatment. The level of FLT accumulation in tumours depends on thymidine kinase 1 activity and on the therapy-induced activation of the salvage pathway and expression of nucleoside transporters. Therefore, cytostatic agents that cause arrest of the cell cycle in the S-phase may initially increase FLT uptake rather than reducing the tumour cell accumulation. In addition, agents that block the endogenous thymidine pathway may lead to overactivity of the salvage pathway and increase tumour FLT uptake. In contrast, many therapeutic agents inhibit both pathways and subsequently reduce tumour FLT uptake. Further studies comparing FLT with F-18 fluorodeoxyglucose-PET will be important to determine the complementary advantage of FLT-PET in early cancer therapy response assessment. Further research should be facilitated by simplified synthesis of FLT with improved yields and an increasing commercial availability.

aDepartment of Radiology/Nuclear Medicine, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

bDepartment of Nuclear Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK

cDepartment of Radiology, Division of Nuclear Medicine, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Correspondence to Norbert Avril, MD, Department of Nuclear Medicine, Barts and The London School of Medicine, Queen Mary, University of London, West Smithfield (QE II), London EC1A 7BE, UK

Tel: +44 20 7601 7141; fax: +44 20 7601 7149; e-mail:

Received 5 May 2009 Accepted 2 June 2009

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.