Folate receptor-targeted positron emission tomography of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in rats

Petri Elo, Xiang Guo Li, Heidi Liljenbäck, Semi Helin, Jarmo Teuho, Kalle Koskensalo, Virva Saunavaara, Päivi Marjamäki, Vesa Oikonen, Jenni Virta, Qingshou Chen, Philip S. Low, Juhani Knuuti, Sirpa Jalkanen, Laura Airas, Anne Roivainen

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9 Scopus citations


Background: Folate receptor-β (FR-β) is a cell surface receptor that is significantly upregulated on activated macrophages during inflammation and provides a potential target for folate-based therapeutic and diagnostic agents. FR-β expression in central nervous system inflammation remains relatively unexplored. Therefore, we used focally induced acute and chronic phases of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) to study patterns of FR-β expression and evaluated its potential as an in vivo imaging target. Methods: Focal EAE was induced in rats using heat-killed Bacillus Calmette-Guérin followed by activation with complete Freund's adjuvant supplemented with Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The rats were assessed with magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography/computed tomography (PET/CT) at acute (14 days) and chronic (90 days) phases of inflammation. The animals were finally sacrificed for ex vivo autoradiography of their brains. PET studies were performed using FR-β-targeting aluminum [18F]fluoride-labeled 1,4,7-triazacyclononane-1,4,7-triacetic acid conjugated folate ([18F]AlF-NOTA-folate, 18F-FOL) and 18 kDa translocator protein (TSPO)-targeting N-acetyl-N-(2-[11C]methoxybenzyl)-2-phenoxy-5-pyridinamine (11C-PBR28). Post-mortem immunohistochemistry was performed using anti-FR-β, anti-cluster of differentiation 68 (anti-CD68), anti-inducible nitric oxide synthase (anti-iNOS), and anti-mannose receptor C-type 1 (anti-MRC-1) antibodies. The specificity of 18F-FOL binding was verified using in vitro brain sections with folate glucosamine used as a blocking agent. Results: Immunohistochemical evaluation of focal EAE lesions demonstrated anti-FR-β positive cells at the lesion border in both acute and chronic phases of inflammation. We found that anti-FR-β correlated with anti-CD68 and anti-MRC-1 immunohistochemistry; for MRC-1, the correlation was most prominent in the chronic phase of inflammation. Both 18F-FOL and 11C-PBR28 radiotracers bound to the EAE lesions. Autoradiography studies verified that this binding took place in areas of anti-FR-β positivity. A blocking assay using folate glucosamine further verified the tracer's specificity. In the chronic phase of EAE, the lesion-to-background ratio of 18F-FOL was significantly higher than that of 11C-PBR28 (P = 0.016). Conclusion: Our EAE results imply that FR-β may be a useful target for in vivo imaging of multiple sclerosis-related immunopathology. FR-β-targeted PET imaging with 18F-FOL may facilitate the monitoring of lesion development and complement the information obtained from TSPO imaging by bringing more specificity to the PET imaging armamentarium for neuroinflammation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number252
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 3 2019


  • Experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis
  • Folate receptor
  • Inflammation
  • Macrophages
  • Positron emission tomography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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