Solid Phase 11C-Methylation, Purification and Formulation for the Production of PET Tracers

* These authors contributed equally

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We report an efficient carbon-11 radiolabeling technique to produce clinically relevant tracers for Positron Emission Tomography (PET) using solid phase extraction cartridges. 11C-methylating agent is passed through a cartridge preloaded with precursor and successive elution with aqueous ethanol provides chemically and radiochemically pure PET tracers in high radiochemical yields.

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Singleton, T. A., Boudjemeline, M., Hopewell, R., Jolly, D., Bdair, H., Kostikov, A. Solid Phase 11C-Methylation, Purification and Formulation for the Production of PET Tracers. J. Vis. Exp. (152), e60237, doi:10.3791/60237 (2019).


Routine production of radiotracers used in positron emission tomography (PET) mostly relies on wet chemistry where the radioactive synthon reacts with a non-radioactive precursor in solution. This approach necessitates purification of the tracer by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) followed by reformulation in a biocompatible solvent for human administration. We recently developed a novel 11C-methylation approach for the highly efficient synthesis of carbon-11 labeled PET radiopharmaceuticals, taking advantage of solid phase cartridges as disposable "3-in-1" units for the synthesis, purification and reformulation of the tracers. This approach obviates the use of preparative HPLC and reduces the losses of the tracer in transfer lines and due to radioactive decay. Furthermore, the cartridge-based technique improves synthesis reliability, simplifies the automation process and facilitates compliance with the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) requirements. Here, we demonstrate this technique on the example of production of a PET tracer Pittsburgh compound B ([11C]PiB), a gold standard in vivo imaging agent for amyloid plaques in the human brains.


Positron emission tomography (PET) is a molecular imaging modality which relies on detecting the radioactive decay of an isotope attached to a biologically active molecule to enable the in vivo visualization of biochemical processes, signals and transformations. Carbon-11 (t1/2 = 20.3 min) is one of the most commonly used radioisotopes in PET because of its abundance in organic molecules and short half-life which allows for multiple tracer administrations on the same day to the same human or animal subject and reduces the radiation burden on the patients. Many tracers labeled with this isotope are used in clinical studies and in basic health research for in vivo PET imaging of classical and emerging biologically relevant targets - [11C]raclopride for D2/D3 receptors, [11C]PiB for amyloid plaques, [11C]PBR28 for translocator protein - to name just a few.

Carbon-11 labeled PET tracers are predominantly produced via 11C-methylation of non-radioactive precursors containing -OH (alcohol, phenol and carboxylic acid), -NH (amine and amide) or -SH (thiol) groups. Briefly, the isotope is generated in the gas target of a cyclotron via a 14N(p,α)11C nuclear reaction in the chemical form of [11C]CO2. The latter is then converted into [11C]methyl iodide ([11C]CH3I) via either wet chemistry (reduction to [11C]CH3OH with LiAlH4 followed by quenching with HI)1 or dry chemistry (catalytic reduction to [11C]CH4 followed by radical iodination with molecular I2)2. [11C]CH3I can then be further converted to the more reactive 11C-methyl triflate ([11C]CH3OTf) by passing it over a silver triflate column3. The 11C-methylation is then performed by either bubbling the radioactive gas into a solution of non-radioactive precursor in organic solvent or via the more elegant captive solvent "loop" method4,5. The 11C-tracer is then purified by means of HPLC, reformulated in a biocompatible solvent, and passed through a sterile filter before being administered to human subjects. All of these manipulations must be fast and reliable given the short half-life of carbon-11. However, the use of an HPLC system significantly increases the losses of the tracer and production time, often necessitates the use of toxic solvents, complicates automation and occasionally leads to failed syntheses. Furthermore, the required cleaning of the reactors and HPLC column prolongs delays between the syntheses of subsequent tracer batches and increases the exposure of personnel to radiation.

The radiochemistry of fluorine-18 (t1/2 = 109.7 min), the other widely used PET isotope, has been recently advanced via the development of cassette-based kits that obviate the need for HPLC purification. By employing solid phase extraction (SPE) cartridges, these fully disposable kits allow for the reliable routine production of 18F-tracers, including [18F]FDG, [18F]FMISO, [18F]FMC and others, with shorter synthesis times, reduced personnel involvement and minimal maintenance of the equipment. One of the reasons carbon-11 remains a less popular isotope in PET imaging is a lack of similar kits for the routine production of 11C-tracers. Their development would significantly improve synthetic reliability, increase radiochemical yields and simplify automation and preventive maintenance of the production modules.

Currently available production kits take advantage of inexpensive, disposable, SPE cartridges instead of HPLC columns for the separation of the radiotracer from unreacted radioactive isotope, precursor and other radioactive and non-radioactive by-products. Ideally, the radiolabeling reaction also proceeds on the same cartridge; for example, the [18F]fluoromethylation of dimethylaminoethanol with gaseous [18F]CH2BrF in the production of prostate cancer imaging PET tracer [18F]fluoromethylcholine occurs on a cation-exchange resin cartridge6. Although similar procedures for the radiolabeling of several 11C-tracers on cartridges have been reported7,8 and became especially powerful for the radiosynthesis of [11C]choline9 and [11C]methionine10, these examples remain limited to oncological PET tracers where the separation from the precursor is often not required. We recently reported the development of "[11C]kits" for the production of [11C]CH3I11 and subsequent 11C-methylation, as well as solid phase-supported synthesis12 in our endeavours to simplify the routine production of 11C-tracers. Here, we wish to demonstrate our progress using the example of the solid phase supported radiosynthesis of [11C]PiB, a radiotracer for Aβ imaging which revolutionized the field of Alzheimer's disease (AD) imaging when it was first developed in 2003 (Figure 1)13,14. In this method, volatile [11C]CH3OTf (bp 100 °C) is passed over 6-OH-BTA-0 precursor deposited on the resin of a disposable cartridge. PET tracer [11C]PiB is then separated from the precursor and radioactive impurities by elution from the cartridge with biocompatible aqueous ethanol. Further, we automated this method of [11C]PiB radiosynthesis using a remotely operated radiochemistry synthesis module and disposable cassette kits. Specifically, we implemented this radiosynthesis on a 20-valve radiochemistry module, equipped with syringe drive (dispenser) which fits standard 20 mL disposable plastic syringe, gas flow controller, vacuum pump and gauge. Due to the simplicity of this method, we are confident that it can be modified to most commercially available automated synthesizers, either cassette-based or those equipped with stationary valves. This solid phase supported technique facilitates [11C]PiB production compliant with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations and improves synthesis reliability. The technique described here also reduces the amount of precursor required for radiosynthesis, uses only "green" biocompatible solvents and decreases the time between consecutive production batches.

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1. Preparation of buffers and eluents

  1. Dissolve 2.72 g of sodium acetate trihydrate in 100 mL of water to prepare 0.2 M sodium acetate solution (solution A).
  2. Dissolve 11.4 mL of glacial acetic acid in 1 L of water to prepare 0.2 M acetic acid solution (solution B).
  3. Combine 50 mL of solution A with 450 mL of solution B to prepare the acetate buffer at pH 3.7 (buffer 1) according to the buffer reference center15. Verify the pH of the buffer with pH strips or a pH meter.
  4. Combine 12.5 mL of absolute ethanol with 87.5 mL of buffer 1 to make 12.5% aqueous EtOH solution (wash 1) in a 100 mL bottle.
  5. Combine 15 mL of absolute ethanol with 85 mL of buffer 1 to make 15% aqueous EtOH solution (wash 2) in a 100 mL bottle.
  6. Combine 5 mL of absolute ethanol with 5 mL of buffer 1 to make 50% aqueous EtOH solution (final eluent) and draw 2.5 mL of this solution into a 10 mL syringe.

2. Application of the precursor to the cartridge

  1. Pass 10 mL of water followed by 5 mL of acetone through the tC18 cartridge to precondition it.
  2. Dry the cartridge with a stream of nitrogen at 50 mL/min for 1 min.
  3. Dissolve 2 mg of the precursor 6-OH-BTA-0 in 1 mL of anhydrous acetone.
  4. Holding a Luer-tip 250 µL precision glass syringe downwards, withdraw 100 µL of the precursor solution and 50 µL of air cushion on top of the liquid. Remove the needle and apply the precursor solution on the tC18 cartridge from the female end by slowly pushing the plunger all the way down. Do not push the solution any further!

3. Setting up the manifold for automated synthesis

  1. Secure the standard 5-port disposable manifold on the synthesis module and assemble it according to the Figure 2 and steps 3.2 - 3.5 below.
    NOTE: We recommend using acetone-resistant manifolds (see Table of Materials).
  2. Port 1 has two positions. Connect the horizontal inlet to the automated dispenser fitted with a 20 mL syringe. Connect the vertical inlet to the bottle with wash 1.
  3. Connect the output of the module which produces [11C]CH3OTf to port 2 of the manifold.
  4. Install the tC18 cartridge loaded with precursor 6-OH-BTA-0 between ports 3 and 4.
  5. Port 5 has two positions. Connect the horizontal outlet to the waste bottle which must hold at least 200 mL. Connect the vertical outlet to the sterile vial for tracer collection via the sterile filter.

4. Radiosynthesis of [11C]PiB

CAUTION: All manipulations involving radioactive isotopes must be performed in a lead-shielded hot cell by personnel with adequate training to work with radioactive materials.
NOTE: This protocol does not cover the details of production of [11C]CO2 in the cyclotron and its conversion into [11C]CH3OTf using the radiochemistry module. These procedures will depend on the individual equipment of the radiochemistry lab and are outside the scope of this protocol. Our PET centre is equipped with an IBA cyclotron, which produces carbon-11 in the chemical form of [11C]CO2 via the 14N(p,α)11C nuclear reaction with a N2/O2 gas mixture (99.5:0.5) in the gas target, and a commercially available module for production of [11C]CH3I via the "dry method" (catalytic reduction to [11C]CH4 followed by radical iodination). [11C]CH3OTf is produced by passing [11C]CH3I over a silver triflate column heated to 175 °C at 20 mL/min.

  1. Deliver [11C]CH3OTf into the manifold through port 2 and pass it through the loaded tC18 cartridge at 20 mL/min output flow regulated by the [11C]CH3OTf module, via ports 3 and 4 and into the waste bottle as shown on Figure 2A.
  2. Once all the radioactivity has been transferred and trapped on the tC18 cartridge as monitored by the radioactivity detector behind the cartridge holder, stop the flow of gas by closing port 2. Let the cartridge sit for 2 min to complete the reaction.
  3. Withdraw 19 mL of wash 1 solution (see step 1.4) from the 100 mL bottle into the dispenser syringe through port 1 at 100 mL/min as shown on Figure 2B.
  4. Dispense 18.5 mL of wash 1 solution from the dispenser through the tC18 cartridge via ports 3 and 4 and into the waste bottle at 50 mL/min as shown on Figure 2C. Ensure the absence of air bubbles in the manifold as they might diminish the separation efficiency.
  5. Repeat steps 4.3 and 4.4 four times, withdrawing and dispensing 18.5 mL of wash 1 solution each time. The total volume of wash 1 solution passed through tC18 is 92.5 mL; however, it can vary within the 90 - 100 mL range depending on the particular synthesis module used.
  6. Switch the input line on port 1 from wash 1 to wash 2 solution (see step 1.5).
  7. Repeat steps 4.3 and 4.4 three times, withdrawing and dispensing 18.5 mL of wash 2 solution each time. The total volume of wash 2 solution passed through tC18 is 55.5 mL. However, it can vary within the 50 - 60 mL range depending on the particular synthesis module used.
  8. Toggle valve 5 towards the final vial as shown on Figure 2D. Disconnect the line from the dispenser and connect it to the 10 mL syringe containing 2.5 mL of the final eluent solution (50% aqueous EtOH, see step 1.6) and 7.5 mL of air.
  9. Holding the syringe downwards, manually push the final eluent solution (2.5 mL) followed by air (7.5 mL) through the tC18 cartridge via ports 3 and 4 and into the sterile vial for tracer collection via the sterile filter as shown on Figure 2D.
  10. Disconnect the empty syringe, connect the 10 mL syringe containing 10 mL of the sterile phosphate buffer (recipe not included as it may vary) and push the entire volume through the tC18 cartridge into the sterile vial as described above (Figure 2D). Disconnect the syringe and flush the line with 10 mL of air using the same syringe.
  11. Withdraw 0.7 mL of the final tracer formulation and collect samples for quality control procedures (0.1 mL), bacterial endotoxin test (0.1 mL) and sterility (0.5 mL).

5. Quality control procedures

CAUTION: Each batch of the radiotracer must be subjected to the appropriate quality control procedures (QC) prior to release to the PET imaging site for administration into human or animal subjects. The authors of this manuscript are not responsible for the compliance of the radiotracer produced at other centers with local health authority regulations.

  1. Perform pre-release QC procedures, which must include tests for radiochemical identity (RCI), radiochemical purity (RCP), chemical purity and molar activity of the tracer as well as residual solvent content and pH of the formulation.
  2. Determine the RCI, RCP, chemical purity and molar activity by means of analytical HPLC system equipped with UV (monitoring at 350 nm) and radioactivity detectors, and a reversed-phase column. Determine the retention times of 6-OH-BTA-0 and 6-OH-BTA-1 and calibrate the instrument to quantify the content of each compound.
  3. Determine the residual solvent content by means of analytical gas chromatography system equipped with a capillary column. Determine the retention times of acetone and ethanol and calibrate the instrument to quantify the content of each solvent.
  4. Perform the bacterial endotoxins test using a cartridge reader equipped with suitable cartridges.
  5. Perform the sterility analysis of the sample at least 14 day after the synthesis to ensure the absence of bacterial growth or send the sterility sample to a laboratory accredited by the local health authority.

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Representative Results

To summarize a typical radiosynthesis of [11C]PiB, gaseous [11C]CH3OTf is first passed through a tC18 cartridge preloaded with a solution of precursor (Figure 1). Separation of the reaction mixture is then achieved by successive elution with aqueous ethanol solutions as follows. First, 12.5% EtOH elutes the majority of unreacted [11C]CH3OTf and 6-OH-BTA-0, then 15% EtOH washes out the residual impurities, and finally a 50% ethanol solution elutes the desired [11C]PiB into a sterile vial. The tracer is then diluted with sterile phosphate buffer and undergoes strict QC procedures before release to the PET imaging site. Typical analytical HPLC UV and radioactivity chromatograms of the [11C]PiB batch suitable for administration are represented in Figure 3.

The total radiosynthesis time is 10 min starting from the delivery of [11C]CH3OTf, the RCY of [11C]PiB using 0.2 mg of precursor is 22% (starting from [11C]CH3OTf, not corrected for decay) and the molar activity is 190 GBq/µmol. The tracer must comply with all QC specifications of the multicenter Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network Trials Unit (DIAN-TU) for clinical trials: the radiochemical purity must be above 95%; the non-radioactive impurities content must be below 1.3 µg per 10 mL dose; the pH must be within the 4 - 8 range; and the ethanol and acetone contents must be below 10% and 3000 ppm, respectively. The samples must also be sterile and endotoxin free. The results of four typical radiosynthesis runs are summarized in Table 1.

For the reported technique to work properly, care must be taken during several critical steps described above. To apply the precursor on the tC18 cartridge (step 2.4) the solution must not be pushed towards the output, so as to not shorten the effective path for separation of the [11C]PiB from the unreacted starting materials and possible side products. The flow of [11C]CH3OTf through a cartridge during the transfer must not exceed 20 mL/min (step 4.1). Once the elution begins (step 4.4), it is very important to keep the cartridge wet and not let air through to avoid channeling effects which might result in lower purity of the tracer or lower RCY due to the losses of [11C]PiB in the waste. If the 5-port manifold used in the radiosynthesis (step 3.1) is not resistant to acetone, such as a standard polycarbonate manifold like ACC-101, the amount of acetone must not exceed 100 µL as larger volumes might damage the manifold during the activity transfer and result in failed synthesis. In case the pH does not meet the specifications, the tC18 cartridge may optionally be rinsed with 10 mL of sterile water between steps 4.7 and 4.8 into the waste bottle.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Radiosynthesis of [11C]PiB by 11C-methylation of 6-OH-BTA-0 precursor with [11C]CH3OTf. [11C]PiB is one of the most widely used radiotracers for imaging of amyloid plaques associated with AD and other neurodegenerative conditions by PET. This tracer is commonly synthesized via 11C-methylation of the aniline precursor called 6-OH-BTA-0 using [11C]methyl triflate ([11C]CH3OTf) either in solution or in the dry HPLC injection loop (solvent captive technique). Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Step-by-step synthesis and purification of [11C]PiB on a tC18 cartridge. (A) Gaseous [11C]CH3OTf is passed through the cartridge loaded with 6-OH-BTA-0. As described in steps 4.1 and 4.2, [11C]CH3OTf is trapped on the cartridge containing the precursor and reacts with the precursor at room temperature for 2 min. (B) Wash 1 or wash 2 solution is withdrawn into the dispenser syringe. As described in step 4.3, the syringe pump of the module pulls the plunger of the clipped syringe upwards, withdrawing a solution of either eluent through a line connected to port 1 of the manifold. (C) The impurities are washed out into a waste bottle. As described in step 4.4, the syringe pump of the module moves the plunger of the clipped syringe downwards, pushing the withdrawn wash solution through the tC18 cartridge via ports 1, 3 and 4 of the manifold into a waste bottle. Steps represented on diagrams B and C are repeated in a cycle several times to wash out all unreacted materials from the cartridge, as described in steps 4.5 - 4.7. (D) [11C]PiB is eluted with the final eluent into a sterile vial through a sterile filter. As described in steps 4.8 and 4.9, the syringe clipped into a syringe pump is disconnected from the line and replaced first with a 10 mL syringe containing 2.5 mL of 50% aqueous ethanol. Port 5 of the manifold is then toggled towards the sterile vial and [11C]PiB is eluted from the tC18 manually. The empty syringe is then replaced with another syringe containing 10 mL of sterile phosphate buffer and the entire contents are pushed through the tC18 to rinse the lines as described in step 4.10. The sterile vial now contains [11C]PiB in a 12.5 mL 10% buffered aqueous ethanol solution.This figure has been modified from Boudjemeline et al.12. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Quality control analytical HPLC of [11C]PiB. (A) The retention times of [11C]CH3OH (from hydrolysis of [11C]CH3OTf), unreacted [11C]CH3OTf, and tracer [11C]PiB on the radioactivity chromatogram are 2.1, 4.0 and 6.6 min, respectively. The analysis of the radioactivity trace shows that the RCP of [11C]PiB is 98.0%. (B) The retention times of 6-OH-BTA-0 (precursor) and 6-OH-BTA-1 (tracer peak) on the UV chromatogram are 3.6 and 5.9 min, respectively. The analysis of the UV trace shows residual precursor concentration below the acceptable limit (1.3 µg) and the absence of other non-radioactive impurities. Thus, the radiochemical and chemical purity of the tracer is acceptable for clinical PET studies. HPLC conditions - column (Table of Materials): 5 µm, 100 x 4.0 mm; mobile phase: 40:60 acetonitrile/water flow rate: 0.7 mL/min. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Figure 4
Figure 4: Optimization of 6-OH-BTA-0 precursor amount. The lowest amount (0.1 mg) provides [11C]PiB in a moderate radiochemical yield (RCY) of 18.1±3.8%. Radiosynthesis starting from 0.2 mg provides [11C]PiB an RCY of 22.0±3.1%, while increasing the amount to 0.3 mg further improves the RCY to 32.1±3.7%, at the expense of a slightly higher amount of the precursor in the final product. All RCY's are not corrected for decay (radiosynthesis time of 10 min) starting from the radioactivity of the [11C]CH3OTf trapped on tC18 cartridge. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Figure 5
Figure 5: Quality control analytical HPLC of [11C]ABP688. (A) Radioactivity chromatogram shows RCP of combined (E)- and (Z)-[11C]ABP688 of 98.1%. (B) UV chromatogram shows residual precursor concentration above 10 µg. While the chemical purity might be acceptable for clinical PET studies, relatively low effective molar activity (Am < 37 GBq/µmol) requires further purification optimization. Please click here to view a larger version of this figure.

Batch Run 1 Run 2 Run 3 Run 4
[11C]CH3OTf, GBq 9.21 11.25 7.84 6.44
[11C]PiB, GBq 2.26 2.37 2.11 1.41
RCY, %* 24.5 21.1 26.9 21.8
RCP, % 98 97.2 97.8 99.2
Molar activity, GBq/µmol 154.6 322.6 121.1 162.1
Residual precursor, μg 0.32 0.55 0.58 0.87
pH 5 5 5 5
EtOH content, % 9.4 8.8 7.7 8.1
Acetone content, ppm 33 38 46 33
BET test N/A <10 EU/mL <10 EU/mL <10 EU/mL
Sterility test N/A No Growth No Growth No Growth
* Footnote: From [11C]CH3OTf, not corrected for decay

Table 1. Representative results of [11C]PiB production runs under optimized conditions. All batches are compliant with requirements for tracers intended for clinical PET studies.

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Despite the recent emergence and FDA approval of several 18F-labeled PET tracers, such as florbetapir, florbetaben and flutemetamol, [11C]PiB remains a gold standard tracer for amyloid imaging due to the fast brain uptake and low non-specific binding. Currently this tracer is synthesized via either wet chemistry16 or using a "dry loop" approach4,17. Both methods require HPLC purification followed by reformulation in aqueous ethanol, which takes approximately 20 - 30 min starting from [11C]CH3OTf. Inspired by some of the previous reports on solid phase supported 11C-methylation techniques and the clinical importance of [11C]PiB, we aimed to develop a radiosynthesis of this tracer using inexpensive disposable solid phase extraction (SPE) cartridges as a "3-in-1" entity for reaction, purification and formulation.

The most critical steps for successful production of PET tracers for in vivo imaging in human subjects are: 1) incorporation of the radioactive isotope into a tracer molecule; 2) separation of the tracer from unreacted radioactive and non-radioactive species; 3) reformulation of the tracer in a biologically compatible solvent; 4) compliance with quality control procedures. Based on the previously reported solvent captive method, we expected that the SPE-supported technique would require a lower amount of precursor compared to 11C-methylation in solution. In particular, previously reported solvent captive procedures for the radiosynthesis of [11C]PiB require 0.5 - 1.0 mg of the precursor4,17. Thus, we investigated not corrected for decay radiochemical yields of [11C]PiB starting from [11C]CH3OTf at three different amounts of 6-OH-BTA-0: 0.1, 0.2, and 0.3 mg. Even the lowest amount (0.1 mg) provides a moderate amount of [11C]PiB, albeit at relatively low and less reliable RCY (18.1±3.8%). Radiosynthesis starting from 0.2 mg provides an RCY of [11C]PiB (22.0±3.1%), while increasing the amount to 0.3 mg further improves RCY (32.1±3.7%), at the expense of a slightly higher amount of the precursor in the final product. In all cases, the radiosynthesis was completed in 10 min. Thus, the optimal precursor amount depends on the desired RCY and purity of [11C]PiB at particular PET centers. The results of the radiochemical yield optimization experiments based on precursor amount are summarized in Figure 4. Notably, radiosynthesis attempts using [11C]CH3I as a methylating agent or ethanol as a reaction solvent did not yield the desired [11C]PiB (data not shown).

The quantitative separation of the radiosynthesis reaction mixture on a short SPE cartridge was the most challenging part of the described technique. We hypothesized that aromatic amines 6-OH-BTA-0 and 6-OH-BTA-1 predominantly exist in their protonated forms in acidic media and therefore would have sharper elution profiles from the reversed-phase solid phase. Hence, all aqueous ethanol solutions were prepared using 0.2 M acetate buffer at pH 3.7. Next, we determined that aqueous ethanol solutions with EtOH concentration up to 15% gradually elute unreacted precursor 6-OH-BTA-0 and [11C]CH3OTf, while radiolabeled [11C]PiB remains trapped on the tC18 cartridge. In order to prevent tailing of those impurities into a final tracer formulation the ethanol concentration was increased from 12.5% to 15% in a gradient elution. After all the impurities had been washed out of the cartridge, tracer elution was achieved using a minimal amount (2.5 mL) of the concentrated ethanol solution (50%). In order to keep the ethanol content under the 10% limit and to bring the pH of the formulated tracer within the acceptable range for human injection (4 - 8), the tracer was diluted with sterile phosphate buffer.

Following conditions optimization, the radiosynthesis of [11C]PiB was automated using a commercially available automated synthesis unit (ASU), equipped with dispenser syringe and disposable manifold. The manifold setup for this particular ASU is straightforward as described in steps 3.1 - 3.5. Notably, this methodology can be easily implemented on most of the other available ASU's following the recipes described above. Under optimized conditions, batches of [11C]PiB suitable for clinical application are synthesized with final activities ranging from 1.4 to 2.4 GBq (38 - 61 mCi).

More recently, we applied the "3-in-1" technique for the radiolabeling of [11C]ABP688, a PET tracer for the imaging of metabotropic glutamate receptors type 5 (mGlu5)18,19. Radiosynthesis of this tracer relies on the 11C-methylation of the -OH group in the oxime; therefore, addition of base is required to deprotonate the desmethyl precursor. Tetrabutylammonium hydroxide (as a 1 M solution in MeOH) was selected as a base because it is soluble in most polar organic solvents. In a preliminary radiolabeling experiment, a solution of precursor (0.5 mg) in DMSO (100 µL) was mixed with 1 M TBAOH in MeOH (20 µL) and the mixture was carefully applied on the tC18 cartridge as described above (see step 2.4). Gaseous [11C]CH3I was passed through the cartridge as described in steps 4.1 - 4.2 and the reaction was allowed to proceed at room temperature for 5 min. Sequential elution with dilute ethanol solutions in 0.2 M sodium bicarbonate buffer (pH 8.5 - 9.0) - 92 mL of 15% EtOH followed by 92 mL of 20% EtOH - washed out the unreacted [11C]CH3I and residual precursor. Radiochemically pure [11C]ABP688 (RCY = 18.2%, RCP >98.0%) was then eluted with 50% EtOH solution in the same buffer through a sterile filter as described in steps 4.9 - 4.11. Despite the fact that over 98% of the precursor is removed with dilute ethanol washes, the presence of some unreacted precursor in the final tracer (up to 20 µg) requires further optimization of the radiosynthesis procedure. This optimization is ongoing, and the results of this project will be published in due course. Representative analytical HPLC UV and radioactivity chromatograms of the [11C]ABP688 batch is shown on Figure 5.

In conclusion, we have developed an efficient solid phase supported carbon-11 radiolabeling procedure using readily available inexpensive SPE cartridges as "3-in-1" entities for radiosynthesis, purification, and formulation of PET tracers used for clinical imaging. Tracers suitable for human injection are produced within 10 min starting from the addition of 11C-methylating agent ([11C]CH3OTf or [11C]CH3I) in high RCY and molar activity. We fully automated this technique to make it compliant with Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations imposed by health and radiation safety authorities. Solid phase supported radiosynthesis requires a low amount of precursor, avoids the use of toxic solvents, decreases the synthesis time and radiation dose sustained by the personnel. Furthermore, avoiding HPLC-related failures improves radiosynthesis reliability and allows for development of disposable kits for routine tracer production.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.


This study was partially supported by a grant 18-05 from the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada (for A. K.) and Brain Canada Foundation with support from Health Canada. The authors would like to acknowledge the McGill University Faculty of Medicine, Montreal Neurological Institute and McConnell Brain Imaging Centre for support of this work. We also thank Mrs. Monica Lacatus-Samoila for help with quality control procedures and Drs. Jean-Paul Soucy and Gassan Massarweh for access to radioisotopes and the radiochemistry facility.


Name Company Catalog Number Comments
6-OH-BTA-0 ABX advanced biochemical compounds 5101 Non-radioactive precursor of [11C]PiB
6-OH-BTA-1 ABX advanced biochemical compounds 5140 Non-radioactive standard of [11C]PiB
Agilent 1200 HPLC system Agilent Agilent 1200 Analytical HPLC system
Ethanol absolute Commercial alcohols 432526
Hamilton syringe (luer-tip, 250 µL) Hamilton HAM80701
MZ Analytical PerfectSil 120 MZ-Analysentechik GmbH MZ1440-100040 Analytical HPLC column
Perkin Elmer Clarus 480 GC system Perkin Elmer Clarus 480 Gas chromotograph
polycarbonate manifold Scintomics ACC-101 Synthesis manifold
Restek MTX-Wax column (30 m, 0.53 mm) Restek 70625-273 Analytical GC column
Scintomics GRP module Scintomics Scintomics GRP Automated synthesis unit
Sep-Pak tC18 Plus Waters WAT020515 Solid phase extraction cartridge
solvent-resistant manifold Scintomics ACC-201 Synthesis manifold
Spinal needle BD 405181
Sterile extension line B. Braun 8255059
Sterile filter Millipore SLLG013SL
Sterile vial (20mL) Huayi SVV-20A
Sterile water Baxter JF7623
Synthra MeIplus Research Synthra MeIplus Research [11C]CH3I/[11C]CH3OTf module
Syringe (10 mL) BD 309604
Syringe (1mL) BD 309659
Syringe (20 mL) B. Braun 4617207V Dispenser syringe
Vent filter Millipore TEFG02525



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