In vivo uptake and metabolism of α-[11C]methyl-L- tryptophan in human brain tumors

Csaba Juhász, Diane C. Chugani, Otto Muzik, Dafang Wu, Andrew E. Sloan, Geoffrey Barger, Craig Watson, Aashit K. Shah, Sandeep Sood, Eser L. Ergun, Tom J. Mangner, Pulak K. Chakraborty, William J. Kupsky, Harry T. Chugani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Abnormal metabolism of tryptophan has been implicated in modulation of tumor cell proliferation and immunoresistance. α-[11C]Methyl-L- tryptophan (AMT) is a PET tracer to measure cerebral tryptophan metabolism in vivo. In the present study, we have measured tumor tryptophan uptake in 40 patients with primary brain tumors using AMT PET and standard uptake values (SUV). Tryptophan metabolism was further quantified in 23 patients using blood input data. Estimates of the volume of distribution (VD′) and the metabolic rate constant (k′3) were calculated and related to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and histology findings. All grade II to IV gliomas and glioneuronal tumors showed increased AMT SUV, including all recurrent/residual tumors. Gadolinium enhancement on MRI was associated with high VD values, suggesting impaired blood-brain barrier, while k′3 values were not related to contrast enhancement. Low-grade astrocytic gliomas showed increased tryptophan metabolism, as measured by k′3. In contrast, oligodendrogliomas showed high VD′ values but lower k′3 as compared with normal cortex. In astrocytic tumors, low grade was associated with high k′3 and lower VD′, while high-grade tumors showed the reverse pattern. The findings show high AMT uptake in primary and residual/recurrent gliomas and glioneuronal tumors. Increased AMT uptake can be due to increased metabolism of tryptophan and/ or high volume of distribution, depending on tumor type and grade. High tryptophan metabolic rates in low-grade tumors may indicate activation of the kynurenine pathway, a mechanism regulating tumor cell growth. AMT PET might be a useful molecular imaging method to guide therapeutic approaches aimed at controlling tumor cell proliferation by acting on tryptophan metabolism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-357
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Cerebral Blood Flow and Metabolism
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Blood-brain barrier
  • Brain tumors
  • Glioma
  • Molecular brain imaging
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Tryptophan metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology
  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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