Theranostics 2019; 9(1):11-19. doi:10.7150/thno.29740

Research Paper

In vivo characterization of a novel norepinephrine transporter PET tracer [18F]NS12137 in adult and immature Sprague-Dawley rats

Francisco R. López-Picón1,2✉*, Anna K. Kirjavainen3,4*, Sarita Forsback3,4, Jatta S. Takkinen1,2, Dan Peters5,6, Merja Haaparanta-Solin1,2, Olof Solin3,4,7✉

1. Preclinical Imaging, Turku PET Centre, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
2. Medicity Research Laboratory, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
3. Radiopharmaceutical Chemistry Laboratory, Turku PET Centre, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
4. Department of Chemistry, University of Turku, Turku, Finland
5. DanPET AB, Malmö, Sweden
6. Neurobiology Research Unit, Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark
7. Accelerator Laboratory, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland
*The authors contributed equally to this work

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
López-Picón FR, Kirjavainen AK, Forsback S, Takkinen JS, Peters D, Haaparanta-Solin M, Solin O. In vivo characterization of a novel norepinephrine transporter PET tracer [18F]NS12137 in adult and immature Sprague-Dawley rats. Theranostics 2019; 9(1):11-19. doi:10.7150/thno.29740. Available from

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Norepinephrine modulates cognitive processes such as working and episodic memory. Pathological changes in norepinephrine and norepinephrine transporter (NET) function and degeneration of the locus coeruleus produce irreversible impairments within the whole norepinephrine system, disrupting cognitive processes. Monitoring these changes could enhance diagnostic accuracy and support development of novel therapeutic components for several neurodegenerative diseases. Thus, we aimed to develop a straightforward nucleophilic fluorination method with high molar activity for the novel NET radiotracer [18F]NS12137 and to demonstrate the ability of [18F]NS12137 to quantify changes in NET expression.

Methods: We applied an 18F-radiolabeling method in which a brominated precursor was debrominated by nucleophilic 18F-fluorination in dimethyl sulfoxide. Radiolabeling was followed by a deprotection step, purification, and formulation of the radiotracer. The [18F]NS12137 brain uptake and distribution were studied with in vivo PET/CT and ex vivo autoradiography using both adult and immature Sprague-Dawley rats because postnatal NET expression peaks at 10-20 days post birth. The NET specificity for the tracer was demonstrated by pretreatment of the animals with nisoxetine, which is well-known to have a high affinity for NET.

Results: [18F]NS12137 was successfully synthesized with radiochemical yields of 18.6±5.6%, radiochemical purity of >99%, and molar activity of >500 GBq/μmol at the end of synthesis. The in vivo [18F]NS12137 uptake showed peak standard uptake values (SUV) of over 1.5 (adult) and 2.2 (immature) in the different brain regions. Peak SUV/30 min and peak SUV/60 min ratios were calculated for the different brain regions of the adult and immature rats, with a peak SUV/60 min ratio of more than 4.5 in the striatum of adult rats. As expected, in vivo studies demonstrated uptake of the tracer in brain areas rich in NET, particularly thalamus, neocortex, and striatum, and remarkably also in the locus coeruleus, a quite small volume for imaging with PET. The uptake was significantly higher in immature rats compared to the adult animals. Ex vivo studies using autoradiography showed very strong specific binding in NET-rich areas such as the locus coeruleus and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis, and high binding in larger grey matter areas such as the neocortex and striatum. The uptake of [18F]NS12137 was dramatically reduced both in vivo and ex vivo by pretreatment with nisoxetine, demonstrating the specificity of binding.

Conclusions: [18F]NS12137 was synthesized in good yield and high molar activity and demonstrated the characteristics of a good radiotracer, such as good brain penetration, fast washout, and high specific binding to NET.

Keywords: [18F]NS12137, norepinephrine transporter, NET, locus coeruleus, PET, nucleophilic fluorination