The history of cerebral PET scanning: From physiology to cutting-edge technology

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To review the discoveries underpinning the introduction of cerebral PET scanning and highlight its modern applications.


Important discoveries in neurophysiology, brain metabolism, and radiotracer development in the post–World War II period provided the necessary infrastructure for the first cerebral PET scan.


A complete review of the literature was undertaken to search for primary and secondary sources on the history of PET imaging. Searches were performed in PubMed, Google Scholar, and select individual journal Web sites. Written autobiographies were obtained through the Society for Neuroscience Web site at A reference book on the history of radiology, Naked to the Bone, was reviewed to corroborate facts and to locate references. The references listed in all the articles and books obtained were reviewed.


The neurophysiologic sciences required to build cerebral PET imaging date back to 1878. The last 60 years have produced an evolution of technological advancements in brain metabolism and radiotracer development. These advancements facilitated the development of modern cerebral PET imaging. Several key scientists were involved in critical discoveries and among them were Angelo Mosso, Charles Roy, Charles Sherrington, John Fulton, Seymour Kety, Louis Sokoloff, David E. Kuhl, Gordon L. Brownell, Michael Ter-Pogossian, Michael Phelps, and Edward Hoffman.


Neurophysiology, metabolism, and radiotracer development in the postwar era synergized the development of the technology necessary for cerebral PET scanning. Continued use of PET in clinical trials and current developments in PET-CT/MRI hybrids has led to advancement in diagnosis, management, and treatment of neurologic disorders.

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