Mapping nephron mass in vivo using positron emission tomography

Edwin J. Baldelomar, David E. Reichert, Kooresh I. Shoghi, Scott C. Beeman, Jennifer R. Charlton, Lori Strong, Nikki Fettig, Amanda Klaas, Kevin M. Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Nephron number varies widely in humans. A low nephron endowment at birth or a loss of functioning nephrons is strongly linked to increased susceptibility to chronic kidney disease. In this work, we developed a contrast agent, radiolabeled cationic ferritin (RadioCF), to map functioning glomeruli in vivo in the kidney using positron emission tomography (PET). PET radiotracers can be detected in trace doses (<30 nmol), making them useful for rapid clinical translation. RadioCF is formed from cationic ferritin (CF) and with a radioisotope, Cu-64, incorporated into the ferritin core. We showed that RadioCF binds specifically to kidney glomeruli after intravenous injection in mice, whereas radiolabeled noncationic ferritin (RadioNF) and free Cu-64 do not. We then showed that RadioCF-PET can distinguish kidneys in healthy wild-type (WT) mice from kidneys in mice with oligosyndactylism (Os/ þ ), a model of congenital hypoplasia and low nephron mass. The average standardized uptake value (SUV) measured by PET 90 min after injection was 21% higher in WT mice than in Os/ þ mice, consistent with the higher glomerular density in WT mice. The difference in peak SUV from SUV at 90 min correlated with glomerular density in male mice from both WT and Os/ þ cohorts (R2 = 0.98). Finally, we used RadioCF-PET to map functioning glomeruli in a donated human kidney. SUV within the kidney correlated with glomerular number (R2= 0.78) measured by CF-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging in the same locations. This work suggests that RadioCF-PET appears to accurately detect nephron mass and has the potential for clinical translation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)F183-F192
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Renal Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Kidney disease
  • Kidney transplant
  • Nephron number
  • Positron emission tomography
  • Radiolabeled cationic ferritin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Urology


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