There is increasing evidence showing the heterogeneity of microglia activation in neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. It has been hypothesized that pro-inflammatory microglia are detrimental and contribute to disease progression, while anti-inflammatory microglia play a role in damage repair and remission. The development of therapeutics targeting the deleterious glial activity and modulating it into a regenerative phenotype relies heavily upon a clearer understanding of the microglia dynamics during disease progression and the ability to monitor therapeutic outcome in vivo. To that end, molecular imaging techniques are required to assess microglia dynamics and study their role in disease progression as well as to evaluate the outcome of therapeutic interventions. Positron emission tomography (PET) is such a molecular imaging technique, and provides unique capabilities for non-invasive quantification of neuroinflammation and has the potential to discriminate between microglia phenotypes and define their role in the disease process. However, several obstacles limit the possibility for selective in vivo imaging of microglia phenotypes mainly related to the poor characterization of specific targets that distinguish the two ends of the microglia activation spectrum and lack of suitable tracers. PET tracers targeting translocator protein 18 kDa (TSPO) have been extensively explored, but despite the success in evaluating neuroinflammation they failed to discriminate between microglia activation statuses. In this review, we highlight the current knowledge on the microglia phenotypes in the major neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases. We also discuss the current and emerging PET imaging targets, the tracers and their potential in discriminating between the pro- and anti-inflammatory microglia activation states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-300
Number of pages19
JournalClinical and Experimental Immunology
Issue number3
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

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