Background: The feasibility of beta cell mass (BCM) imaging and quantification with positron emission tomography (PET) in the pancreas is controversial. In an effort to shed some light on this topic, we have used a xenograft model of rat insulinoma (RIN) in mice, mimicking an intramuscular islet transplantation situation.
Methods: A total of 105 RIN cells were subcutaneously implanted in nude mice (N.=8). Tumor size and glycaemia levels were determined daily. Rat C-peptide was measured to demonstrate rat insulin production. PET imaging with 11C-(+)-¿-dihydrotetrabenazine (11C-DTBZ) was done at 3 and 4 weeks and compared with 18F-FDG and 18F-DOPA studies in the same mice. Ex-vivo autoradiography with 11C-DTBZ was carried out in frozen sections of tumors. VMAT2 expression was measured by Western-blot and immunohistochemistry in tumors and RIN cells.
Results: Functional rat insulin production in mice was demonstrated by substantial decrease in glycaemia (<50 mg/dL by week 4) and rat C-peptide levels (7.2±2.6 ng/mL) similar to those measured in control rats. PET studies showed that tumor imaging with 11C-DTBZ at four (N.=8) and five (N.=5) weeks was negative; only bigger tumors could be seen with 18F-DOPA. In explanted tumors 11C-DTBZ autoradiography was negative, albeit VMAT2 expression measured by Western-blot and immunohistochemistry was lower than in cultured RIN cells.
Conclusions: Although insulinomas are fully functional it does not seem feasible to use 11C-DTBZ for in-vivo measuring of BCM. This might either be due to inherent technical limitations of PET, decrease in VMAT2 expression in the tumors due to unknown reasons, or other biological limiting facts.