PET imaging of neurotransmission using direct parametric reconstruction

Neuroimage. 2020 Nov 1;221:117154. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117154. Epub 2020 Jul 15.


Receptor ligand-based dynamic Positron Emission Tomography (PET) permits the measurement of neurotransmitter release in the human brain. For single-scan paradigms, the conventional method of estimating changes in neurotransmitter levels relies on fitting a pharmacokinetic model to activity concentration histories extracted after PET image reconstruction. However, due to the statistical fluctuations of activity concentration data at the voxel scale, parametric images computed using this approach often exhibit low signal-to-noise ratio, impeding characterization of neurotransmitter release. Numerous studies have shown that direct parametric reconstruction (DPR) approaches, which combine image reconstruction and kinetic analysis in a unified framework, can improve the signal-to-noise ratio of parametric mapping. However, there is little experience with DPR in imaging of neurotransmission and the performance of the approach in this application has not been evaluated before in humans. In this report, we present and evaluate a DPR methodology that computes 3-D distributions of ligand transport, binding potential (BPND) and neurotransmitter release magnitude (γ) from a dynamic sequence of PET sinograms. The technique employs the linear simplified reference region model (LSRRM) of Alpert et al. (2003), which represents an extension of the simplified reference region model that incorporates time-varying binding parameters due to radioligand displacement by release of neurotransmitter. Estimation of parametric images is performed by gradient-based optimization of a Poisson log-likelihood function incorporating LSRRM kinetics and accounting for the effects of head movement, attenuation, detector sensitivity, random and scattered coincidences. A 11C-raclopride simulation study showed that the proposed approach substantially reduces the bias and variance of voxel-wise γ estimates as compared to standard methods. Moreover, simulations showed that detection of release could be made more reliable and/or conducted using a smaller sample size using the proposed DPR estimator. Likewise, images of BPND computed using DPR had substantially improved bias and variance properties. Application of the method in human subjects was demonstrated using 11C-raclopride dynamic scans and a reward task, confirming the improved quality of the estimated parametric images using the proposed approach.

Keywords: Direct reconstruction; Dopamine; Neurotransmission; PET; Parametric imaging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods*
  • Radiopharmaceuticals / pharmacokinetics*
  • Synaptic Transmission*


  • Radiopharmaceuticals