Dying a thousand deaths. Radionuclide imaging of apoptosis

Q J Nucl Med. 1999 Jun;43(2):170-6.


Programmed cell death, apoptosis, is an inducible, organized, energy requiring form of demise that results in the disappearance of a cell without the induction of an inflammatory response. Apoptotic cell death is strikingly different than necrotic death, which is disorderly, does not require energy and results in local inflammation, usually secondary to sudden release of intracellular contents. Apoptosis is induced when cells undergo severe injury to their nucleus, as occurs following exposure to gamma or X-radiation, or mitcochondria, as occurs in a variety of viral illnesses. Apoptosis can also be induced by external signals, such as interaction of fas ligand with fas receptors. Once the cell is committed to apoptosis, the caspase enzyme cascade is activated. An early effect of caspase activation is the rapid expression of phosphatidylserine on the external leaflet of the cell membrane. Membrane bound phosphatidylserine expression serves as a signal to surrounding cells, identifying the expressing cell as undergoing apoptosis. A deficiency or an excess of programmed cell death is an integral component of autoimmune disorders, transplant rejection and cancer. A technique to image programmed cell death would be useful to assist in the development of drugs designed to treat these diseases, and to monitor the effectiveness of therapy. The sudden expression of phosphatidylserine on the cell membrane is a target that could be used for this purpose. A 35 kD physiologic protein, Annexin V lipocortin, binds with nanomolar affinity to membrane bound phosphatidylserine. Annexin V has been radiolabeled with Technetium-99m by direct coupling to free sulfhydryl groups, and through the hydrazinonicatinamide and N2S2 linking agents. The biodistribution of the agents labeled with each of the methods is slightly different. In all cases the radiopharmaceutical binds to cells undergoing apoptosis in vitro, and permits imaging of the process in experimental animals.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Annexin A5 / metabolism
  • Apoptosis* / physiology
  • Caspases / physiology
  • Cell Death / physiology
  • Cell Nucleus / physiology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / metabolism
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Membrane Lipids / metabolism
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology
  • Mitochondria / physiology
  • Necrosis
  • Phosphatidylserines / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylserines / physiology
  • Radionuclide Imaging*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Receptors, Antigen / physiology
  • Signal Transduction / physiology
  • Technetium
  • fas Receptor / physiology


  • Annexin A5
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Receptors, Antigen
  • fas Receptor
  • Technetium
  • Caspases