Molecular Imaging of Pituitary Tumors

Semin Nucl Med. 2023 Jul;53(4):530-538. doi: 10.1053/j.semnuclmed.2023.02.005. Epub 2023 Mar 23.


Tumors of the pituitary gland, although mostly benign adenomas, are a cause of significant morbidity and even excess mortality due to local compressive effects (eg visual loss, hypopituitarism) and unregulated hormone secretion (eg acromegaly or Cushing Disease). Surgery, radiotherapy, and medical management (sometimes in combination) may be needed to mitigate the effects of tumor expansion and endocrine dysfunction. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) plays a central role in treatment planning for most patients. However, it does not always reliably identify the site(s) of primary or recurrent disease, especially where post-treatment remodeling results in indeterminate anatomical appearances. In these contexts, molecular imaging is a potential game-changer, allowing precise localization of sites of active disease and enabling safe and effective targeted intervention when patients would otherwise be consigned to expensive life-long medication. For pituitary and parasellar imaging, PET is the preferred modality due to its superior spatial resolution and sensitivity compared with SPECT, and an array of PET radioligands have been studied in different pituitary adenoma (PA) subtypes. While 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (18F-FDG) is widely available, significant heterogeneity in tumoral uptake has limited its use. Instead, ligands targeting specific molecular pathways relevant to PA biology (eg somatostatin or dopamine receptor expression, amino acid uptake) are increasingly preferred and are beginning to find application in routine clinical practice. In addition, novel approaches to distinguish adenomatous tissue from normal gland (eg through comparison of images obtained with different radiotracers) and increase confidence that a suspected abnormal focus is indeed pathological (eg through subtraction imaging) have been proposed. It is likely therefore that molecular imaging will continue to find increasing application in the management of pituitary tumors just as it already does in other endocrine disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma* / metabolism
  • Adenoma* / pathology
  • Adenoma* / surgery
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Molecular Imaging
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / diagnostic imaging
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Pituitary Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods


  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18