Antibody vectors for imaging

Semin Nucl Med. 2010 May;40(3):167-81. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2009.12.005.


Noninvasive molecular imaging approaches include nuclear, optical, magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, ultrasound, and photoacoustic imaging, which require accumulation of a signal delivered by a probe at the target site. Monoclonal antibodies are high affinity molecules that can be used for specific, high signal delivery to cell surface molecules. However, their long circulation time in blood makes them unsuitable as imaging probes. Efforts to improve antibodies pharmacokinetics without compromising affinity and specificity have been made through protein engineering. Antibody variants that differ in antigen binding sites and size have been generated and evaluated as imaging probes to target tissues of interest. Fast clearing fragments, such as single-chain variable fragment (scFv; 25 kDa), with 1 antigen-binding site (monovalent) demonstrated low accumulation in tumors because of the low exposure time to the target. Using scFv as building block to produce larger, bivalent fragments, such as scFv dimers (diabodies, 50 kDa) and scFv-fusion proteins (80 kDa minibodies and 105 kDa scFv-Fc), resulted in higher tumor accumulation because of their longer residence time in blood. Imaging studies with these fragments after radiolabeling have demonstrated excellent, high-contrast images in gamma cameras and positron emission tomography scanners. Several studies have also investigated antibody fragments conjugated to fluorescence (near infrared dyes), bioluminescence (luciferases), and quantum dots for optical imaging and iron oxides nanoparticles for magnetic resonance imaging. However, these studies indicate that there are several factors that influence successful targeting and imaging. These include stability of the antibody fragment, the labeling chemistry (direct or indirect), whether critical residues are modified, the number of antigen expressed on the cell, and whether the target has a rapid recycling rate or internalizes upon binding. The preclinical data presented are compelling, and it is evident that antibody-based molecular imaging tracers will play an important future role in the diagnosis and management of cancer and other diseases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal* / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Image Enhancement / methods
  • Isotope Labeling / trends*
  • Molecular Probe Techniques / trends*
  • Radioimmunodetection / trends*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals* / chemistry
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / trends*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Radiopharmaceuticals