Folate receptor overexpression can be visualized in real time during pituitary adenoma endoscopic transsphenoidal surgery with near-infrared imaging

John Y.K. Lee, Steve S. Cho, Ryan Zeh, John T. Pierce, Maria Martinez-Lage, Nithin D. Adappa, James N. Palmer, Jason G. Newman, Kim O. Learned, Caitlin White, Julia Kharlip, Peter Snyder, Philip S. Low, Sunil Singhal, M. Sean Grady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE Pituitary adenomas account for approximately 10% of intracranial tumors and have an estimated prevalence of 15%–20% in the general US population. Resection is the primary treatment for pituitary adenomas, and the transsphenoidal approach remains the most common. The greatest challenge with pituitary adenomas is that 20% of patients develop tumor recurrence. Current approaches to reduce recurrence, such as intraoperative MRI, are costly, associated with high false-positive rates, and not recommended. Pituitary adenomas are known to overexpress folate receptor alpha (FRa), and it was hypothesized that OTL38, a folate analog conjugated to a near-infrared (NIR) fluorescent dye, could provide real-time intraoperative visual contrast of the tumor versus the surrounding nonneoplastic tissues. The preliminary results of this novel clinical trial are presented. METHODS Nineteen adult patients who presented with pituitary adenoma were enrolled. Patients were infused with OTL38 2–4 hours prior to surgery. A 4-mm endoscope with both visible and NIR light capabilities was used to visualize the pituitary adenoma and its margins in real time during surgery. The signal-to-background ratio (SBR) was recorded for each tumor and surrounding tissues at various endoscope-to-sella distances. Immunohistochemical analysis was performed to assess the FRa expression levels in all specimens and classify patients as having either high or low FRa expression. RESULTS Data from 15 patients (4 with null cell adenomas, 1 clinically silent gonadotroph, 1 totally silent somatotroph, 5 with a corticotroph, 3 with somatotrophs, and 1 somatocorticotroph) were analyzed in this preliminary analysis. Four patients were excluded for technical considerations. Intraoperative NIR imaging delineated the main tumors in all 15 patients with an average SBR of 1.9 ± 0.70. The FRa expression level of the adenomas and endoscope-to-sella distance had statistically significant impacts on the fluorescent SBRs. Additional considerations included adenoma functional status and time from OTL38 injection. SBRs were 3.0 ± 0.29 for tumors with high FRa expression (n = 3) and 1.6 ± 0.43 for tumors with low FRa expression (n = 12; p < 0.05). In 3 patients with immunohistochemistry-confirmed FRa overexpression (2 patients with null cell adenoma and 1 patient with clinically silent gonadotroph), intraoperative NIR imaging demonstrated perfect classification of the tumor margins with 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity. In addition, for these 3 patients, intraoperative residual fluorescence predicted postoperative MRI results with perfect concordance. CONCLUSIONS Pituitary adenomas and their margins can be intraoperatively visualized with the preoperative injection of OTL38, a folate analog conjugated to NIR dye. Tumor-to-background contrast is most pronounced in adenomas that overexpress FRa. Intraoperative SBR at the appropriate endoscope-to-sella distance can predict adenoma FRa expression status in real time. This work suggests that for adenomas with high FRa expression, it may be possible to identify margins and to predict postoperative MRI findings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-403
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Fluorescence
  • Folate receptor
  • Pituitary surgery
  • Visualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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