In the last years, an increasing interest in molecular imaging has been raised by the extending potential of positron emission tomography [PET]. The role of PET imaging, originally confined to the oncology setting, is continuously extending thanks to the development of novel radiopharmaceutical and to the implementation of hybrid imaging techniques, where PET scans are combined with computed tomography [CT] or magnetic resonance imaging[MRI] in order to improve spatial resolution.
Early preclinical studies suggested that 18F–FDG PET can detect neuroinflammation; new developing radiopharmaceuticals targeting more specifically inflammation-related molecules are moving in this direction. Neurological involvement is a distinct feature of various systemic autoimmune diseases, i.e. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus [SLE] or Behcet’s disease [BD]. Although MRI is largely considered the gold-standard imaging technique for the detection of Central Nervous System [CNS] involvement in these disorders. Several patients complain of neuropsychiatric symptoms [headache, epilepsy, anxiety or depression] in the absence of any significant MRI finding; in such patients the diagnosis relies mainly on clinical examination and often the role of the disease process versus iatrogenic or reactive forms is doubtful.
The aim of this review is to explore the state-of-the-art for the role of PET imaging in CNS involvement in systemic rheumatic diseases. In addition, we explore the potential role of emerging radiopharmaceutical and their possible application in aiding the diagnosis of CNS involvement in systemic autoimmune diseases.