Background: PET allows non-invasive mapping of tumor hypoxia, but the combination of low resolution, slow tracer adduct-formation and slow clearance of unbound tracer remains problematic. Using a murine tumor with a hypoxic fraction within the clinical range and a tracer post-injection sampling time that results in clinically obtainable tumor-to-reference tissue activity ratios, we have analyzed to what extent inherent limitations actually compromise the validity of PET-generated hypoxia maps.
Materials and methods: Mice bearing SCCVII tumors were injected with the PET hypoxia-marker fluoroazomycin arabinoside (FAZA), and the immunologically detectable hypoxia marker, pimonidazole. Tumors and reference tissue (muscle, blood) were harvested 0.5, 2 and 4h after FAZA administration. Tumors were analyzed for global (well counter) and regional (autoradiography) tracer distribution and compared to pimonidazole as visualized using immunofluorescence microscopy.
Results: Hypoxic fraction as measured by pimonidazole staining ranged from 0.09 to 0.32. FAZA tumor to reference tissue ratios were close to unity 0.5h post-injection but reached values of 2 and 6 when tracer distribution time was prolonged to 2 and 4h, respectively. A fine-scale pixel-by-pixel comparison of autoradiograms and immunofluorescence images revealed a clear spatial link between FAZA and pimonidazole-adduct signal intensities at 2h and later. Furthermore, when using a pixel size that mimics the resolution in PET, an excellent correlation between pixel FAZA mean intensity and density of hypoxic cells was observed already at 2h post-injection.
Conclusions: Despite inherent weaknesses, PET-hypoxia imaging is able to generate quantitative tumor maps that accurately reflect the underlying microscopic reality (i.e., hypoxic cell density) in an animal model with a clinical realistic image contrast.