Central nervous system (CNS) neurodegeneration is defined by a complex series of pathological processes that ultimately lead to death. The precise etiology of these disorders remains unknown. Recent efforts show that a mechanistic understanding of the malfunctions underpinning disease progression will prove requisite in developing new treatments and cures. Transition metals and lanthanide ions display unique characteristics (i.e., magnetism, radioactivity, and luminescence), often with biological relevance, allowing for direct application in CNS focused imaging modalities. These techniques include positron emission tomography (PET), single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and luminescent-based imaging (LumI). In this Tutorial Review, we have aimed to highlight the various metal-based imaging techniques developed in the effort to understand the pathophysiological processes associated with neurodegeneration. Each section has been divided so as to include an introduction to the particular imaging technique in question. This is then followed by a summary of key demonstrations that have enabled visualization of a specific neuropathological biomarker. These strategies have either exploited the high binding affinity of a receptor for its corresponding biomarker or a specific molecular transformation caused by a target species, all of which produce a concomitant change in diagnostic signal. Advantages and disadvantages of each method with perspectives on the utility of molecular imaging agents for understanding the complexities of neurodegenerative disease are discussed.
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