An in vivo Pig Model for Testing Novel Positron Emission Tomography Radioligands Targeting Cerebral Protein Aggregates

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Positron emission tomography (PET) has become an essential clinical tool for diagnosing neurodegenerative diseases with abnormal accumulation of proteins like amyloid-β or tau. Despite many attempts, it has not been possible to develop an appropriate radioligand for imaging aggregated α-synuclein in the brain for diagnosing, e.g., Parkinson’s Disease. Access to a large animal model with α-synuclein pathology would critically enable a more translationally appropriate evaluation of novel radioligands. We here establish a pig model with cerebral injections of α-synuclein preformed fibrils or brain homogenate from postmortem human brain tissue from individuals with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or dementia with Lewy body (DLB) into the pig’s brain, using minimally invasive surgery and validated against saline injections. In the absence of a suitable α-synuclein radioligand, we validated the model with the unselective amyloid-β tracer [11C]PIB, which has a high affinity for β-sheet structures in aggregates. Gadolinium-enhanced MRI confirmed that the blood-brain barrier was intact. A few hours post-injection, pigs were PET scanned with [11C]PIB. Quantification was done with Logan invasive graphical analysis and simplified reference tissue model 2 using the occipital cortex as a reference region. After the scan, we retrieved the brains to confirm successful injection using autoradiography and immunohistochemistry. We found four times higher [11C]PIB uptake in AD-homogenate-injected regions and two times higher uptake in regions injected with α-synuclein-preformed-fibrils compared to saline. The [11C]PIB uptake was the same in non-injected (occipital cortex, cerebellum) and injected (DLB-homogenate, saline) regions. With its large brain and ability to undergo repeated PET scans as well as neurosurgical procedures, the pig provides a robust, cost-effective, and good translational model for assessment of novel radioligands including, but not limited to, proteinopathies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number847074
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Raval, Nasser, Madsen, Beschorner, Beaman, Juhl, Lehel, Palner, Svarer, Plavén-Sigray, Jørgensen and Knudsen.

    Research areas

  • alpha-synucein, amyloid-β, large animal PET, PET, PiB - Pittsburgh compound B, pig brain imaging, pig model, protein injection model

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