Use of positron emission tomography in animal research

ILAR J. 2001;42(3):219-32. doi: 10.1093/ilar.42.3.219.


Among the several imaging technologies applied to in vivo studies of research animals, positron emission tomography (PET) is a nuclear imaging technique that permits the spatial and temporal distribution of compounds labeled with a positron-emitting radionuclide to be determined noninvasively. It can be viewed as an in vivo analog of classic autoradiographic methods. Many different positron-labeled compounds have been synthesized as tracers that target a range of specific markers or pathways. These tracers permit the measurement of quantities of biological interest ranging from glucose metabolism to gene expression. PET has been extensively used in imaging studies of larger research animals such as dogs and nonhuman primates. Now, using newly developed high-resolution dedicated animal PET scanners, these types of studies can be performed in small laboratory animals such as mice and rats. The entire whole-body biodistribution kinetics can be determined in a single imaging study in a single animal. This technique should enable statistically significant biodistribution data to be obtained from a handful of animals, compared with the tens or hundreds of animals that might be required for a similar study by autoradiography. PET also enables repeat studies in a single subject, facilitating longitudinal study designs and permitting each animal to serve as its own control in experiments designed to evaluate the effects of a particular interventional strategy. This paper provides a basic overview of the methodology of PET imaging, a discussion of the advantages and drawbacks of PET as a tool in animal research, a description of the latest generation of dedicated animal PET scanners, and a review of a few of the many applications of PET in animal research to date.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy, Cross-Sectional
  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory / anatomy & histology*
  • Animals, Laboratory / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Research Design*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / instrumentation*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / methods*