Intraoperative near-infrared imaging with receptor-specific versus passive delivery of fluorescent agents in pituitary adenomas

Steve S. Cho, Jun Jeon, Love Buch, Shayoni Nag, MacLean Nasrallah, Philip S. Low, M. Sean Grady, Sunil Singhal, John Y.K. Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE Intraoperative molecular imaging with tumor-targeted fluorescent dyes can enhance resection rates. In contrast to visible-light fluorophores (e.g., 5-aminolevulinic-acid), near-infrared (NIR) fluorophores have increased photon tissue penetration and less contamination from tissue autofluorescence. The second-window ICG (SWIG) technique relies on passive accumulation of indocyanine green (ICG) in neoplastic tissues. OTL38, conversely, targets folate receptor overexpression in nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas. In this study, we compare the properties of these 2 modalities for NIR imaging of pituitary adenomas to better understand the potential for NIR imaging in neurosurgery. METHODS A total of 39 patients with pituitary adenomas were enrolled between June 2015 and January 2018 in 2, sequential, IRB-approved studies. Sixteen patients received systemic ICG infusions 24 hours prior to surgery, and another 23 patients received OTL38 infusions 2–3 hours prior to surgery. NIR fluorescence signal-to-background ratio (SBR) was recorded during and after resection. Immunohistochemistry was performed on the 23 adenomas resected from patients who received OTL38 to assess expression of folate receptor–alpha (FRa). RESULTS All 16 adenomas operated on after ICG administration demonstrated strong NIR fluorescence (mean SBR 4.1 ± 0.69 [SD]). There was no statistically significant difference between the 9 functioning and 7 nonfunctioning adenomas (p = 0.9). After administration of OTL38, the mean SBR was 1.7 ± 0.47 for functioning adenomas, 2.6 ± 0.91 for all nonfunctioning adenomas, and 3.2 ± 0.53 for the subset of FRa-overexpressing adenomas. Tissue identification with white light alone for all adenomas demonstrated 88% sensitivity and 90% specificity. SWIG demonstrated 100% sensitivity but only 29% specificity for both functioning and nonfunctioning adenomas. OTL38 was 75% sensitive and 100% specific for all nonfunctioning adenomas, but when assessment was limited to the 9 FRa-overexpressing adenomas, the sensitivity and specificity of OTL38 were both 100%. CONCLUSIONS Intraoperative imaging with NIR fluorophores demonstrates highly sensitive detection of pituitary adenomas. OTL38, a folate-receptor–targeted fluorophore, is highly specific for nonfunctioning adenomas but has no utility in functioning adenomas. SWIG, which relies on passive diffusion into neoplastic tissue, is applicable to both functioning and nonfunctioning pituitary adenomas, but it is less specific than targeted fluorophores. Thus, targeted and nontargeted NIR fluorophores play important, yet distinct, roles in intraoperative imaging. Selectively and intelligently using either agent has the potential to greatly improve resection rates and outcomes for patients with intracranial tumors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1974-1984
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019


  • Folate receptor
  • Indocyanine-green
  • Near-infrared imaging
  • Pituitary adenoma
  • Pituitary surgery
  • Targeted imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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