Over the last 30 years nuclear medicine imaging of the adrenal gland and its lesions has been achieved by the exploitation of a number of physiological characteristics of this organ. By seeking and utilising features which are quantitatively or qualitatively different from those of the adjacent tissues, functional depiction of the adrenal gland and its diseases, which in most cases retain the basic physiology of their tissue of origin, including both the cortex and the medulla, are now a useful clinical reality. Agents widely used in clinical practice include: (a) uptake and storage of radiolabelled cholesterol analogues via the low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptor and cholesterol ester storage pool in the adrenal cortex ((131)I-6-beta-iodomethyl-norcholesterol, (75)Se-selenomethyl-norcholesterol); (b) catecholamine type I, presynaptic, uptake mechanism and intracellular granule uptake and storage mechanism in the adrenal medulla and extra-adrenal paraganglia ((131)I-, (123)I- and (124)I-meta-iodo-benzyl-guanidine (MIBG), (18)F-metafluoro-benzyl-guanidine); (c) cell surface receptor binding of peptides/neurotransmitters/modulators such as for the family of five subtypes of somatostatin receptors ((123)I-tyr-octreotide, (111)In-DTPA-octreotide, (111)In-DOTA-octreotide and many others); (d) although not specific for the adrenal gland, increased glycolysis by tumours, particularly the most malignant varieties, (18)F-2-fluoro-d-deoxyglucose can thus be expected to depict certain malignant lesions such as malignant pheochromocytomas (particularly the minority which are not detected by MIBG) and adrenal incidentalomas (particularly when they occur in patients with known extra-adrenal malignancies). There are a variety of adrenal tissue characteristics with potential for exploitation but which are not currently in clinical use, and which may, nevertheless, have potential as imaging agents. These include: (a) inhibitors of adrenal cortical steroid hormone synthesis enzymes (e.g. radiolabelled analogues of metyrapone); (b) radiolabelled lipoproteins which bind to adrenocortical LDL receptors; (c) inhibitors of catecholamine biosynthesis enzymes (e.g. radiolabelled analogues of tyrosine and related amino acids); (d) cell surface receptors for various peptides and hormones which may be over-expressed on adrenal cortical or adrenal medullary tumours (e.g. radiolabelled analogues of ACTH on adrenocortical cells of zona fasciculata or zona glomerulosa origin, neurotransmitter/hormone message peptides binding to cell surface receptors such as bombesin, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, cholecystokinin and opiate peptides); (e) the adrenal cortex can also synthesise cholesterol ab initio from acetate, and preliminary studies with (11)C-acetate positron emission tomography have shown interesting results.
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