Assessing brain immune activation in psychiatric disorders: clinical and preclinical PET imaging studies of the 18-kDa translocator protein

Thalia F. van der Doef, Janine Doorduin, Bart N.M. van Berckel, Simon Cervenka*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Accumulating evidence from different lines of research suggests an involvement of the immune system in the pathophysiology of several psychiatric disorders. During recent years, a series of positron emission tomography (PET) studies have been published using radioligands for the translocator protein (TSPO) to study microglia activation in schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder, major depression, autism spectrum disorder, and drug abuse. The results have been somewhat conflicting, which could be due to differences both in patient sample characteristics and in PET methods. In particular, further work is needed to address both methodological and biological sources of variability in TSPO levels, a process in which the use of animal models and small animal PET systems can be a valuable tool. Given this development, PET studies of immune activation have the potential to further increase our understanding of disease mechanisms in psychiatric disorders, which is a requisite in the search for new treatment approaches. Furthermore, molecular imaging could become an important clinical tool for identifying specific subgroups of patients or disease stages that would benefit from treatment targeting the immune system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-460
Number of pages12
JournalClinical and Translational Imaging
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015

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