Monitoring apoptosis in real time

Cancer J. Mar-Apr 2002;8(2):82-92. doi: 10.1097/00130404-200203000-00002.


Many therapeutically active anticancer treatments exert their effect by the induction of apoptosis and necrosis. Serial biopsies in breast cancer patients have suggested that response to therapy correlates with early posttreatment increases in tumor apoptotic index. Radiolabeled technetium Tc 99m-recombinant human (rh) annexin V provides a noninvasive technique for imaging treatment-induced cell death. Annexin V is a naturally occurring human protein that binds avidly to membrane-associated phosphatidylserine (PS). PS is normally found only on the inner leaflet of the cell membrane double layer, but it is actively transported to the outer layer as an early event in apoptosis and becomes available for annexin binding. Annexin also gains access to PS as a result of the membrane fragmentation associated with necrosis. In vitro studies of apoptosis using fluorescein annexin have shown good correlation with assessments of apoptosis documented by nuclear DNA degradation and caspase activation. In vivo localization of intravenously administered Tc 99m-annexin V has been demonstrated in numerous preclinical models of apoptosis, including anti-Fas-mediated hepatic apoptosis, rejection of allogeneic heterotopic cardiac allografts, cyclophosphamide treatment of murine lymphoma, cyclophosphamide-induced apoptosis in bone marrow, and leukocyte apoptosis associated with abscess formation. Scintigraphic studies in humans using Tc 99m-rh annexin V have demonstrated the feasibility of imaging cell death in acute myocardial infarction, in tumors with a high apoptotic index, and in response to anti-tumor chemotherapy of non-small cell lung cancer, small-cell lung cancer, breast cancer, lymphoma, and sarcoma. Increased localization of Tc 99m-rh annexin V within 1 to 3 days of chemotherapy has been noted in some, but not all, subjects with these tumors. To date, most subjects showing increased Tc 99m-rh annexin V uptake after the first course of chemotherapy have shown objective clinical responses. A single site study in 15 subjects with 1-year follow-up has suggested that increased posttreatment Tc 99m-rh annexin uptake is associated with improved time to progression of disease and survival time. In vivo imaging of cell death may have the potential to improve the treatment of cancer patients by allowing rapid, objective, patient-by-patient assessment of the efficacy of tumor cell killing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Annexin A5*
  • Apoptosis*
  • Humans
  • Myocardial Infarction / pathology
  • Myocardial Infarction / physiopathology
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Necrosis
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Radiopharmaceuticals*
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Technetium*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon


  • Annexin A5
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Technetium