Imaging tumors with peptide-based radioligands

Q J Nucl Med. 2001 Jun;45(2):189-200.


Regulatory peptides are small, readily diffusable and potent natural substances with a wide spectrum of receptor-mediated actions in humans. High affinity receptors for these peptides are (over-) expressed in many neoplasms, and these receptors may represent, therefore, new molecular targets for cancer diagnosis and therapy. This review aims to give an overview of the peptide-based radiopharmaceuticals which are presently already commercially available or which are in advanced stages of their clinical testing so that their broader availability is anticipated soon. Physiologically, these peptides bind to and act through G protein-coupled receptors in the cell membrane. Historically, somatostatin analogs are the first class of receptor binding peptides having gained clinical application. 111In-DTPA-[D-Phe1]-octreotide is the first and only radiopeptide which has obtained regulatory approval in Europe and the United States to date. Extensive clinical studies involving several thousands of patients have shown that the major clinical application of somatostatin receptor scintigraphy is the detection and the staging of gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (carcinoids). In these tumors, octreotide scintigraphy is superior to any other staging method. However, its sensitivity and accuracy in other, more frequent neoplasms is limited. Radiolabeled vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP) has been shown to visualize the majority of gastrointestinal adenocarcinomas, as well as some neuroendocrine tumors, including insulinomas (the latter being often missed by somatostatin receptor scintigraphy). Due to the outstanding diagnostic accuracy of the pentagastrin test in detecting the presence, persistence, or recurrence of medullary thyroid cancer (MTC), we postulated the expression of the corresponding (ie. cholecystokinin [CCK-] -B) receptor type in human MTC. This receptor is also widely expressed on human small-cell lung cancer. Indeed, 111In-labeled DTPA derivatives of gastrin showed excellent targeting of CCK-B receptor expressing tissues in animals and patients. A variety of further peptide-based radioligands, e.g. among many others, gastrin-releasing peptide/bombesin, neurotensin, substance-P, pan-somatostatin (somatostatin derivatives which bind to all five receptor subtypes) or glucagon-like peptide-1 (glp-1) analogs (the latter for the specific detection of insulinomas), is currently under development. Summarizing, radiolabeled regulatory peptides have opened new horizons in nuclear oncology for diagnosis (and potential internal radionuclide therapy). Future work will probably reveal a multitude of novel potentially clinically useful peptide-based radioligands.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Octreotide / metabolism
  • Radionuclide Imaging
  • Receptors, Cholecystokinin / analysis*
  • Receptors, Somatostatin / analysis*
  • Receptors, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide / analysis*


  • Receptors, Cholecystokinin
  • Receptors, Somatostatin
  • Receptors, Vasoactive Intestinal Peptide
  • Octreotide