PET studies of the uptake of (S)- and (R)-[11C]nicotine in the human brain: difficulties in visualizing specific receptor binding in vivo

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1994 Jun;115(1-2):31-6. doi: 10.1007/BF02244748.


(S)- and (R)-[11C]nicotine were synthesized by methylation of (S)- and (R)-nornicotine using [11C]methyl iodide. Following their intravenous injection in tracer doses to smoking and nonsmoking healthy males the radioactivity in arterial blood showed a sharp peak at about 1 min followed by a plateau level for the remaining 50 min of recording. Uptake in the brain, as measured by positron emission tomography (PET), was rapid with a peak at 5 min followed by a steady decline towards the end of the measurement. The regional distribution of radioactivity followed essentially the distribution of gray matter with high uptake in the cortex, the thalamus and the basal ganglia and low uptake in the pons, cerebellum and white matter. Levels of the labelled natural enantiomer, (S)-[11C]nicotine, were higher than those of the synthetic enantiomer, (R)-[11C]nicotine, particularly in the smokers. The time-activity curves of (S)-[11C]nicotine uptake were not changed by co-administration of 1.0 mg of unlabelled nicotine with the labelled nicotine. Similarly administration of unlabelled nicotine at the peak of radioactivity, 6 min following (S)-[11C]nicotine, had no effect on the time-activity curves. Thus essential criteria for visualizing receptor binding with the PET technique could not be fulfilled. Calculation of kinetic constants using a two-compartment model gave values indicating that the brain uptake of [11C]nicotine is mainly determined by the cerebral blood flow, extraction of the tracer over the blood-brain barrier and unspecific binding. Thus 11C-labelled nicotine does not seem to be a suitable tracer for PET studies of nicotinic cholinergic receptors in the human brain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Nicotine / blood
  • Nicotine / pharmacokinetics*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism*
  • Smoking / metabolism
  • Stereoisomerism
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Nicotine