In Vivo PET Imaging of HDL in Multiple Atherosclerosis Models

JACC Cardiovasc Imaging. 2016 Aug;9(8):950-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2016.01.020. Epub 2016 May 25.


Objectives: The goal of this study was to develop and validate a noninvasive imaging tool to visualize the in vivo behavior of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) by using positron emission tomography (PET), with an emphasis on its plaque-targeting abilities.

Background: HDL is a natural nanoparticle that interacts with atherosclerotic plaque macrophages to facilitate reverse cholesterol transport. HDL-cholesterol concentration in blood is inversely associated with risk of coronary heart disease and remains one of the strongest independent predictors of incident cardiovascular events.

Methods: Discoidal HDL nanoparticles were prepared by reconstitution of its components apolipoprotein A-I (apo A-I) and the phospholipid 1,2-dimyristoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphocholine. For radiolabeling with zirconium-89 ((89)Zr), the chelator deferoxamine B was introduced by conjugation to apo A-I or as a phospholipid-chelator (1,2-distearoyl-sn-glycero-3-phosphoethanolamine-deferoxamine B). Biodistribution and plaque targeting of radiolabeled HDL were studied in established murine, rabbit, and porcine atherosclerosis models by using PET combined with computed tomography (PET/CT) imaging or PET combined with magnetic resonance imaging. Ex vivo validation was conducted by radioactivity counting, autoradiography, and near-infrared fluorescence imaging. Flow cytometric assessment of cellular specificity in different tissues was performed in the murine model.

Results: We observed distinct pharmacokinetic profiles for the two (89)Zr-HDL nanoparticles. Both apo A-I- and phospholipid-labeled HDL mainly accumulated in the kidneys, liver, and spleen, with some marked quantitative differences in radioactivity uptake values. Radioactivity concentrations in rabbit atherosclerotic aortas were 3- to 4-fold higher than in control animals at 5 days' post-injection for both (89)Zr-HDL nanoparticles. In the porcine model, increased accumulation of radioactivity was observed in lesions by using in vivo PET imaging. Irrespective of the radiolabel's location, HDL nanoparticles were able to preferentially target plaque macrophages and monocytes.

Conclusions: (89)Zr labeling of HDL allows study of its in vivo behavior by using noninvasive PET imaging, including visualization of its accumulation in advanced atherosclerotic lesions. The different labeling strategies provide insight on the pharmacokinetics and biodistribution of HDL's main components (i.e., phospholipids, apo A-I).

Keywords: PET/CT; PET/MRI; atherosclerosis; high-density lipoprotein; zirconium-89.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aorta / diagnostic imaging*
  • Aorta / metabolism
  • Aorta / pathology
  • Aortic Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Aortic Diseases / genetics
  • Aortic Diseases / metabolism
  • Aortic Diseases / pathology
  • Apolipoproteins E / deficiency
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Atherosclerosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Atherosclerosis / genetics
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Atherosclerosis / pathology
  • Autoradiography
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / administration & dosage*
  • Lipoproteins, HDL / pharmacokinetics
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Optical Imaging
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic*
  • Positron Emission Tomography Computed Tomography*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Rabbits
  • Radioisotopes
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / administration & dosage*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / pharmacokinetics
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Zirconium / administration & dosage*
  • Zirconium / pharmacokinetics


  • Apolipoproteins E
  • Lipoproteins, HDL
  • Radioisotopes
  • Radiopharmaceuticals
  • Zirconium