Binding potential

In pharmacokinetics and receptor-ligand kinetics the binding potential (BP) is a combined measure of the density of "available" neuroreceptors and the affinity of a drug to that neuroreceptor.


Consider a ligand receptor binding system. Ligand with a concentration "L" associates with a receptor of concentration or availability "R" to form a ligand-receptor complex with concentration "RL". The binding potential is then the ratio ligand-receptor complex to free ligand at equilibrium and in the limit of L tending to 0, and is given symbol BP:


This quantity, originally defined by Mintun [Cite journal
author = Mark A. Mintun, Marcus E. Raichle, Michael R. Kilbourn, G. Frederick Wooten, Michael J. Welch
url =
title = A quantitative model for the in vivo assessment of drug binding sites with positron emission tomography
journal = Annals of Neurology
volume = 15
issue = 3
pages = 217–227
year = 1984
month = March
doi = 10.1002/ana.410150302
] , describes the capacity of a receptor to bind ligand. It is a limit (L << Ki) of the general receptor association equation:


and is thus also equivalent to:


These equations apply equally when measuring the total receptor density or the residual receptor density available after binding to second ligand - availability.

BP in Positron Emission Tomography

BP is a pivotal measure in the use of positron emission tomography (PET) to measure the density of "available" receptors, e.g. to assess the occupancy by drugs or to characterize neuropsychiatric diseases (yet, one should keep in mind that binding potential is a combined measure that depends on receptor density as well as on affinity). An overview of the related methodology is e.g. given in Laruelle et al (2002) [Cite journal
author = Marc Laruelle, Mark Slifstein, Yiyun Huang
doi = 10.1016/S1046-2023(02)00085-3
title = Positron emission tomography: imaging and quantification of neurotransporter availability
journal = Methods
volume = 27
issue = 3
pages = 287–299
year = 2002
month = July
] .Estimating BP with PET usually requires that a reference tissue is available. A reference tissue has negligible receptor density and its distribution volume should be the same as the distribution volume in the target region if all receptors were blocked. Although the BP can be measured in a relatively unbiased way by measuring the whole time course of labelled ligand association and blood radioactivity, this is practically not always necessary. Two other common measures have been derived, which involve assumptions, but result in measures that should correlate with BP: BP_1 and BP_2.

*BP_2: The "specific to nonspecific equilibrium partition coefficient", in the literature also denoted as V_3". This is the ratio of specifically bound to nondisplaceable tracer in brain tissue at true equilibrium. It can be calculated without arterial blood sampling. In the two-tissue compartment model: BP_2=k_3/k_4 and BP_2=f_2BP where f_2 is the free fraction of the tracer in the first tissue compartment, i.e. a measure that depends on the nonspecific binding of the ligand in brain tissue

*BP_1: The ratio of specifically bound tracer to tracer in plasma at true equilibrium, in the literature also denoted BP'. Measuring BP_1 includes measurements of radioactivity in plasma, including metabolite correction. From the two-tissue compartment model and by assuming there is only passive diffusion across the blood brain barrier, one obtains: BP_1=f_1BP where f_1 is the free fraction of the tracer in arterial plasma, i.e. a measure that depends on plasma binding. Measuring and dividing by f_1 finally allows to obtain BP.

Definitions and Symbols

While BP_1 and BP_2 are nonambiguous symbols, BP is not. There are many publications in which BP denotes BP_2. Generally, if there were no arterial samples ("noninvasive imaging"), BP denotes BP_2.

B_{max}: Total density of receptors = R+RL. In PET imaging, the amount of radioligand is usually very small (L << Ki, see above), thus B_{max} approx R

k_3 and k_4: Transfer rate constants from the two tissue compartment model.

NEW NOTATIONAL CONVENTIONS:In Innis et al [Innis et al, Consensus nomenclature for in vivo imaging of reversibly binding radioligands, J. Cereb Blood Flow and Metab. 2007, 27(9) 1533-1539] , a large group of researchers who are active in this field agreed to a consensus nomenclature for these terms, with the intent of making the literature in this field more transparent to non-experts. The convention involves use of the subscripts p for quantities referred to plasma and ND for quantities referred to the free plus nonspecifically bound concentration in brain (NonDisplaceable). Under the consensus nomenclature, the parameters referred to above as f1 and BP1 are now called fp and BPp, while f2 and BP2 are called fND and BPND.

See also

*Volume of distribution


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