In vivo imaging of amyloid plaques may be useful for evaluation and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease (AD) patients. Towards that end, we have developed 6-iodo-2-(4'-dimethylamino-)phenyl-imidazo[1,2]pyridine (IMPY), and 4-N-methylamino-4'-hydroxystilbene (SB-13) as ligands for specifically targeting amyloid plaques. These ligands can be readily radiolabeled with I-123 or C-11, for in vivo imaging using single photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) or positron emission tomography (PET), respectively. However, in order to be useful in vivo, probes must show selective high affinity binding to a sufficiently abundant binding site on amyloid plaques. Therefore, as a prelude to in vivo imaging studies, we evaluated the binding properties of these two potential imaging agents to amyloid plaques present in human brain tissues. In vitro binding studies were carried out with [(125)I]IMPY and [(3)H]SB-13 in homogenates prepared from postmortem samples of affected cortex and cerebellum of pathologically confirmed AD patients and age-matched controls. Binding parameters such as K(d) and B(max) were estimated. Competition study was designed to evaluate the amyloid plaque binding specificity using human brain tissues. Plaque binding was confirmed by thioflavin-S staining. Specific [(125)I]IMPY or [(3)H]SB-13 binding can be clearly measured in the cortical gray matter, but not in the white matter of AD cases. There was a very low specific binding in cortical tissue homogenates of control brains. Cerebellar homogenates prepared from either AD or control brains did not show any specific [(125)I]IMPY or [(3)H]SB-13 binding. The K(d) values of AD cortical homogenates were 5.3+/-1.0 and 2.4+/-0.2 nM for [(125)I]IMPY and [(3)H]SB-13, respectively. High binding capacity and comparable values were observed for both ligands (14-45 pmol/mg protein). The location and density of specific signal detected by [(125)I]IMPY or [(3)H]SB-13 correlated with the distribution of amyloid plaques in these brain specimens, as confirmed by thioflavin-S staining. Competition profiles of known ligands suggest that the binding is highly selective and comparable to that reported by using preformed Abeta peptide aggregates. [(125)I]IMPY and [(3)H]SB-13 show an abundant binding capacity with high binding affinities for amyloid plaques in affected cortical regions of AD brains. These properties suggest that when labeled with I-123 or C-11, these two ligands may be useful to quantitate amyloid plaque burdens in the living AD patients.