Targeting CXCR4 (CXC Chemokine Receptor Type 4) for Molecular Imaging of Aldosterone-Producing Adenoma

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Primary aldosteronism is the most frequent cause of secondary hypertension and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality compared with hypertensive controls. The central diagnostic challenge is the differentiation between bilateral and unilateral disease, which determines treatment options. Bilateral adrenal venous sampling, currently recommended for differential diagnosis, is an invasive procedure with several drawbacks, making it desirable to develop novel noninvasive diagnostic tools. When investigating the expression pattern of chemokine receptors by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemistry, we observed high expression of CXCR4 (CXC chemokine receptor type 4) in aldosterone-producing tissue in normal adrenals, adjacent adrenal cortex from adrenocortical adenomas, and in aldosterone-producing adenomas (APA), correlating strongly with the expression of CYP11B2 (aldosterone synthase). In contrast, CXCR4 was not detected in the majority of nonfunctioning adenomas that are frequently found coincidently. The specific CXCR4 ligand 68Ga-pentixafor has recently been established as radiotracer for molecular imaging of CXCR4 expression and showed strong and specific binding to cryosections of APAs in our study. We further investigated 9 patients with primary aldosteronism because of APA by 68Ga-pentixafor–positron emission tomography. The tracer uptake was significantly higher on the side of increased adrenocortical aldosterone secretion in patients with APAs compared with patients investigated by 68Ga-pentixafor–positron emission tomography for other causes. Molecular imaging of aldosterone-producing tissue by a CXCR4-specific ligand may, therefore, be a highly promising tool for noninvasive characterization of patients with APAs.

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