Technetium-99m Succimer in Nuclear Medicine: NephroSan for Scintigraphic Evaluation of Renal Function

Technetium-99m succimer, also known as technetium Tc-99m dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), commercially known as NephroSan, represents a remarkable advancement in the field of medical imaging, particularly in scintigraphic evaluation. This radiopharmaceutical has become increasingly important in diagnosing and monitoring renal parenchymal function and various other medical conditions. This essay explores the properties of technetium-99m succimer, its mechanism of action, clinical applications, advantages, and limitations in scintigraphic imaging.

Properties and Mechanism of Action

Technetium-99m (Tc-99m) is a metastable nuclear isomer of technetium-99, which is widely used in diagnostic radiology due to its ideal physical properties. It has a short half-life of approximately 6 hours, which minimises radiation exposure, and it emits gamma rays at an energy level (140 keV) that is effectively captured by gamma cameras. When technetium-99m is conjugated to succimer (dimercaptosuccinic acid, DMSA), it forms Tc-99m succimer, which is specifically used for renal imaging.

Succimer, the chelating agent, binds to Tc-99m, allowing it to be taken up by the renal parenchyma after intravenous administration. The uptake mechanism is believed to be related to the compound’s affinity for renal tubular cells, where it binds to the sulfhydryl groups. The localisation of Tc-99m succimer in the kidneys permits high-resolution imaging of renal parenchymal tissue.

Clinical Applications

The primary use of Tc-99m succimer scintigraphy is in the evaluation of renal cortical scarring, differential renal function, and the detection of acute pyelonephritis. It is beneficial in pediatric patients, where congenital anomalies and urinary tract infections can affect renal function. The technique is also employed to assess the renal parenchyma in conditions such as lupus nephritis renal artery stenosis, and in the follow-up of renal transplant patients.

Tc-99m succimer is advantageous in renal cortical imaging because it provides detailed anatomical images. The high-resolution images produced enable physicians to detect even small areas of scarring or dysplasia. Furthermore, the quantification of differential renal function is invaluable in the planning of surgical interventions, such as in the case of severe vesicoureteral reflux or obstructive uropathies.

Beyond its renal applications, Tc-99m succimer has been investigated for its utility in imaging other organs and conditions. For instance, studies have looked into its role in characterising certain types of tumours, such as medullary thyroid cancer, given its uptake in specific tissues.

Advantages in Scintigraphy

Scintigraphy with Tc-99m succimer has several advantages; for example, the high specificity of the radiopharmaceutical for renal parenchymal tissue results in clear, detailed images that are crucial for accurate diagnosis. The procedure is minimally invasive, involving only an intravenous injection, and the short half-life of Tc-99m reduces radiation exposure to the patient.

Furthermore, the ability of Tc-99m succimer to quantify differential renal function can guide therapeutic decisions and offers a non-invasive alternative to more invasive diagnostic procedures like renal biopsy or urography. Additionally, the procedure is well-tolerated by patients, including children, which is particularly important given the pediatric applications of the imaging agent.

Limitations and Considerations

Despite its advantages, Tc-99m succimer scintigraphy is not without limitations. The need for specialised equipment, such as a gamma camera and a radiopharmacy facility to prepare the radiopharmaceutical, can restrict its availability. Additionally, while the radiation dose is relatively low, it is still a concern, especially for children and pregnant women.

In cases where there is poor renal function, the uptake of Tc-99m succimer may be insufficient to provide clear images. In such instances, alternative imaging agents or modalities may be required. Patient hydration and diuresis can also affect the uptake and distribution of the radiopharmaceutical, potentially complicating the interpretation of images.


Technetium-99m succimer scintigraphy is a valuable tool in the diagnostic imaging arsenal, especially for evaluating renal parenchymal conditions. Its unique properties allow for high-resolution imaging and functional assessment of the kidneys, which facilitates early diagnosis and management of renal diseases. While its use has certain limitations, its benefits in clinical practice, particularly in terms of its diagnostic accuracy and safety profile, make it a preferred method for renal imaging in many cases.

As with any medical procedure, the use of Tc-99m succimer must be reasonable, balancing the potential risks against the diagnostic and therapeutic benefits. Continued research and technological advancements are likely to enhance the applications of this radiopharmaceutical further, potentially expanding its utility in diagnosing and managing other medical conditions beyond renal pathology.

In the context of pediatric patients, Tc-99m succimer scintigraphy is especially significant. Children are susceptible to ionising radiation’s effects; thus, the low radiation dose associated with Tc-99m makes it a preferable choice in pediatric imaging. Additionally, its non-invasive nature circumvents the need for sedation or anaesthesia, which are often required for MRI or CT scans in this patient group. This aspect not only reduces the risk associated with sedation but also alleviates the psychological stress for both the child and the parents.

Another field where Tc-99m succimer demonstrates potential is in the evaluation of hypertensive patients. The ability to assess renal function and detect renovascular hypertension through scintigraphic imaging is of considerable clinical value. In patients with high blood pressure, identifying a renal component can be crucial in tailoring the appropriate intervention, whether medical or surgical.

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