Technetium-99m-labeled myocardial perfusion agents: Are they better than thallium-201?

Cardiol Rev. 2001 May-Jun;9(3):160-72. doi: 10.1097/00045415-200105000-00009.


Currently, thallium-201 (201Tl)- and technetium-99m (99mTc)-labeled tracers are used interchangeably for the detection of coronary artery disease, the assessment of myocardial viability, and risk stratification. This article reviews some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of the 99mTc-labeled tracers relative to 201Tl. The basic myocardial kinetic properties and biodistribution of the commonly used 99mTc-labeled perfusion tracers are compared with those of 201Tl. The clinical value of the 99mTc-labeled perfusion tracers is then compared with that of 201Tl imaging. With regard to imaging physics and radiation safety, the 99mTc-labeled tracers are superior to 201Tl. Cost and tracer availability also may favor 99mTc-labeled perfusion tracers rather than 201Tl imaging. However, the most widely used 99mTc-labeled perfusion tracers currently approved for clinical use-99mTc-sestamibi and 99mTc-tetrofosmin-do not track myocardial flow as well as 201Tl does. This shortcoming of 99mTc-labeled perfusion tracers may reduce the sensitivity of these agents in detecting subcritical coronary artery disease. The most notable new perfusion agent is 99mTc-labeled bis(N-ethoxy, N-ethyl dithiocarbamato) nitrido technetium(v), which is considered to be the 99mTc-labeled equivalent of 201Tl. However, 99mTc-labeled bis(N-ethoxy, N-ethyl dithiocarbamato) nitrido technetium(v) is a neutral compound with kinetic properties that are very different from those of 201Tl. Myocardial perfusion imaging is often conducted in conjunction with exercise or with different pharmacologic stressors, both of which augment regional flow heterogeneity. Each of these stressors has unique effects on the coronary vasculature and influences the behavior of the radiolabeled perfusion agents. The substantial differences in myocardial uptake, clearance kinetics, and biodistribution between each of the 99mTc-labeled perfusion tracers and 201Tl should be considered in the clinical application of perfusion imaging. The myocardial retention of all of the agents is affected by myocardial viability. However, 201Tl demonstrates greater differential clearance from normal and ischemic regions (redistribution), making 201Tl a better agent for assessment of viability, particularly in patients with extremely low flow. In contrast, agents that do not redistribute, such as 99mTc-tetrofosmin, might be better for acute assessment of "risk areas" or of chest pain. Each of the available perfusion tracers has unique advantages and disadvantages that must be considered to ensure its optimal application.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Coronary Circulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Ischemia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Organotechnetium Compounds*
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Thallium Radioisotopes*
  • Thallium*


  • Organotechnetium Compounds
  • Thallium Radioisotopes
  • thallium chloride
  • Thallium