Radiolabelled leucocytes in human pulmonary disease

Br Med Bull. 2018 Sep 1;127(1):69-82. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldy022.


Introduction: Radionuclides for leucocyte kinetic studies have progressed from non-gamma emitting cell-labelling radionuclides through gamma emitting nuclides that allow imaging of leucocyte kinetics, to the next goal of positron emission tomography (PET).

Sources of data: Mostly the authors' own studies, following on from studies of the early pioneers.

Areas of controversy: From early imaging studies, it appeared that the majority of the marginated granulocyte pool was located in the lungs. However, later work disputed this by demonstrating the exquisite sensitivity of granulocytes to ex vivo isolation and labelling, and that excessive lung activity is artefactual.

Areas of agreement: Following refinement of labelling techniques, it was shown that the majority of marginated granulocytes are located in the spleen and bone marrow. The majority of leucocytes have a pulmonary vascular transit time only a few seconds longer than erythrocytes. The minority showing slow transit, ~5% in healthy persons, is increased in systemic inflammatory disorders that cause neutrophil priming and loss of deformability. Using a range of imaging techniques, including gamma camera imaging, whole-body counting and single photon-emission computerized tomography, labelled granulocytes were subsequently used to image pulmonary trafficking in lobar pneumonia, bronchiectasis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and adult respiratory distress syndrome.

Growing points: More recently, eosinophils have been separated in pure form using magnetic bead technology for the study of eosinophil trafficking in asthma.

Areas timely for developing research: These include advancement of eosinophil imaging, development of monocyte labelling, development of cell labelling with PET tracers and the tracking of lymphocytes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Granulocytes / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Isotope Labeling*
  • Leukocytes* / physiology
  • Lung Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Diseases / pathology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Radioisotopes / metabolism*


  • Radioisotopes