Translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO): molecular sensor of brain injury and repair

Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Apr;118(1):1-17. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2007.12.004. Epub 2008 Feb 9.


For over 15 years, the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor (PBR), recently named translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO) has been studied as a biomarker of reactive gliosis and inflammation associated with a variety of neuropathological conditions. Early studies documented that in the brain parenchyma, TSPO is exclusively localized in glial cells. Under normal physiological conditions, TSPO levels are low in the brain neuropil but they markedly increase at sites of brain injury and inflammation making it uniquely suited for assessing active gliosis. This research has generated significant efforts from multiple research groups throughout the world to apply TSPO as a marker of "active" brain pathology using in vivo imaging modalities such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) in experimental animals and humans. Further, in the last few years, there has been an increased interest in understanding the molecular and cellular function(s) of TSPO in glial cells. The latest evidence suggests that TSPO may not only serve as a biomarker of active brain disease but also the use of TSPO-specific ligands may have therapeutic implications in brain injury and repair. This review presents an overview of the history and function of TSPO focusing on studies related to its use as a sensor of active brain disease in experimental animals and in human studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Gene Expression
  • Gliosis / metabolism
  • Gliosis / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism*


  • Ligands
  • Receptors, GABA
  • TSPO protein, human