Over the last 30 years, the 18-kDa TSPO protein has been considered as the PET imaging biomarker of reference to measure increased neuroinflammation. Generally assumed to image activated microglia, TSPO has also been detected in endothelial cells and activated astrocytes. Here, we provide an exhaustive overview of the recent literature on the TSPO-PET imaging (i) in the search and development of new TSPO tracers and (ii) in the understanding of acute and chronic neuroinflammation in animal models of neurological disorders. Generally, studies testing new TSPO radiotracers against the prototypic [C]-R-PK11195 or more recent competitors use models of acute focal neuroinflammation (e.g. stroke or lipopolysaccharide injection). These studies have led to the development of over 60 new tracers during the last 15 years. These studies highlighted that interpretation of TSPO-PET is easier in acute models of focal lesions, whereas in chronic models with lower or diffuse microglial activation, such as models of Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, TSPO quantification for detection of neuroinflammation is more challenging, mirroring what is observed in clinic. Moreover, technical limitations of preclinical scanners provide a drawback when studying modest neuroinflammation in small brains (e.g. in mice). Overall, this review underlines the value of TSPO imaging to study the time course or response to treatment of neuroinflammation in acute or chronic models of diseases. As such, TSPO remains the gold standard biomarker reference for neuroinflammation, waiting for new radioligands for other, more specific targets for neuroinflammatory processes and/or immune cells to emerge.
© 2021. The Author(s).