Radionuclide imaging of the parathyroid glands

Semin Nucl Med. 2005 Oct;35(4):266-76. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2005.06.001.


The parathyroid glands, which usually are situated behind the thyroid gland, secrete parathyroid hormone, or PTH, which helps maintain calcium homeostasis. Primary hyperparathyroidism results from excess parathyroid hormone secretion. In secondary hyperparathyroidism, the normal PTH effect on bone calcium release is lost. Serum PTH rises, causing generalized hyperplasia. In tertiary hyperparathyroidism, a complication of secondary hyperparathyroidism, normal feedback mechanisms governing PTH secretion are lost, parathyroid gland sensitivity to PTH decreases, and the threshold for inhibiting PTH secretion increases. 99mTc sestamibi, or MIBI, the current radionuclide study of choice for preoperative parathyroid localization, can be performed in various ways. The "single-isotope, double-phase technique" is based on the fact that MIBI washes out more rapidly from the thyroid than from abnormal parathyroid tissue. However, not all parathyroid lesions retain MIBI and not all thyroid tissue washes out quickly, and subtraction imaging is helpful. Many MIBI avid thyroid lesions also accumulate pertechnetate and iodine, and subtraction reduces false positives. Single-photon emission computed tomography provides information for localizing parathyroid lesions, differentiating thyroid from parathyroid lesions, and detecting and localizing ectopic parathyroid lesions. The most frequent cause of false-positive MIBI results is the solid thyroid nodule. Other causes include thyroid carcinoma, lymphoma, and lymphadenopathy. False-negative results occur because of several factors. Lesion size is important. Cellular function also may be important. Parathyroid tissue that expresses P-glycoprotein does not accumulate MIBI. Parathyroid adenomas that express either P-glycoprotein or the multidrug resistance related protein MRP are less likely to accumulate MIBI. MIBI scintigraphy is less sensitive for detecting hyperplastic parathyroid glands. In secondary hyperparathyroidism, MIBI uptake is more closely related to cell cycle than to gland size. Mitochondria-rich oxyphil cells presumably account for MIBI uptake in parathyroid lesions. Fewer oxyphil cells, and hence fewer mitochondria, may explain both lower uptake and rapid washout of MIBI from some lesions. MIBI is also less sensitive for detecting multigland disease than solitary gland disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Hyperparathyroidism / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hyperparathyroidism / etiology
  • Parathyroid Glands / diagnostic imaging*
  • Parathyroid Neoplasms / complications
  • Parathyroid Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Prognosis
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Tc 99m Sestamibi*


  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Technetium Tc 99m Sestamibi