Biological Distribution and Metabolic Profiles of Carbon-11 and Fluorine-18 Tracers of VX- and Sarin-Analogs in Sprague-Dawley Rats

Chem Res Toxicol. 2021 Jan 18;34(1):63-69. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.0c00237. Epub 2020 Dec 29.


Organophosphorus esters (OPs) were originally developed as pesticides but were repurposed as easily manufactured, inexpensive, and highly toxic chemical warfare agents. Acute OP toxicity is primarily due to inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), an enzyme in the central and peripheral nervous system. OP inhibition of AChE can be reversed using oxime reactivators but many show poor CNS penetration, indicating a need for new clinically viable reactivators. However, challenges exist on how to best measure restored AChE activity in vivo and assess the reactivating agent efficacy. This work reports the development of molecular imaging tools using radiolabeled OP analog tracers that are less toxic to handle in the laboratory, yet inhibit AChE in a similar fashion to the actual OPs. Carbon-11 and fluorine-18 radiolabeled analog tracers of VX and sarin OP agents were prepared. Following intravenous injection in normal Sprague-Dawley rats (n = 3-4/tracer), the tracers were evaluated and compared using noninvasive microPET/CT imaging, biodistribution assay, and arterial blood analyses. All showed rapid uptake and stable retention in brain, heart, liver, and kidney tissues determined by imaging and biodistribution. Lung uptake of the sarin analog tracers was elevated, 2-fold and 4-fold higher uptake at 5 and 30 min, respectively, compared to that for the VX analog tracers. All tracers rapidly bound to red blood cells (RBC) and blood proteins as measured in the biodistribution and arterial blood samples. Analysis of the plasma soluble activity (nonprotein/cell bound activity) showed only 1-6% parent tracer and 88-95% of the activity in the combined solid fractions (RBC and protein bound) as early as 0.5 min post injection. Multivariate analysis of tracer production yield, molar activity, brain uptake, brain area under the curve over 0-15 min, and the amount of parent tracer in the plasma at 5 min revealed the [18F]VX analog tracer had the most favorable values for each metric. This tracer was considered the more optimal tracer relative to the other tracers studied and suitable for future in vivo OP exposure and reactivation studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / chemistry
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Fluorine Radioisotopes
  • Male
  • Molecular Structure
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds / chemistry
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sarin / chemistry
  • Sarin / pharmacology*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Carbon-11
  • Chemical Warfare Agents
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Fluorine Radioisotopes
  • Organothiophosphorus Compounds
  • VX
  • Sarin
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Fluorine-18