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Clare W. Teng, Vincent Huang, Gabriel R. Arguelles, Cecilia Zhou, Steve S. Cho, Stefan Harmsen, and John Y. K. Lee

Indocyanine green (ICG) is a water-soluble dye that was approved by the FDA for biomedical purposes in 1956. Initially used to measure cardiocirculatory and hepatic functions, ICG’s fluorescent properties in the near-infrared (NIR) spectrum soon led to its application in ophthalmic angiography. In the early 2000s, ICG was formally introduced in neurosurgery as an angiographic tool. In 2016, the authors’ group pioneered a novel technique with ICG named second-window ICG (SWIG), which involves infusion of a high dose of ICG (5.0 mg/kg) in patients 24 hours prior to surgery. To date, applications of SWIG have been reported in patients with high-grade gliomas, meningiomas, brain metastases, pituitary adenomas, craniopharyngiomas, chordomas, and pinealomas.

The applications of ICG have clearly expanded rapidly across different specialties since its initial development. As an NIR fluorophore, ICG has advantages over other FDA-approved fluorophores, all of which are currently in the visible-light spectrum, because of NIR fluorescence’s increased tissue penetration and decreased autofluorescence. Recently, interest in the latest applications of ICG in brain tumor surgery has grown beyond its role as an NIR fluorophore, extending into shortwave infrared imaging and integration into nanotechnology. This review aims to summarize reported clinical studies on ICG fluorescence–guided surgery of intracranial tumors, as well as to provide an overview of the literature on emerging technologies related to the utility of ICG in neuro-oncological surgeries, including the following aspects: 1) ICG fluorescence in the NIR-II window; 2) ICG for photoacoustic imaging; and 3) ICG nanoparticles for combined diagnostic imaging and therapy (theranostic) applications.

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Clare W. Teng, Steve S. Cho, Yash Singh, Emma De Ravin, Keren Somers, Love Buch, Steven Brem, Sunil Singhal, Edward J. Delikatny, and John Y. K. Lee


Metastases are the most common intracranial malignancies and complete resection can provide relief of neurological symptoms and reduce recurrence. The authors’ prospective pilot study in 2017 demonstrated promising results for the application of high-dose, delayed imaging of indocyanine green (ICG), known as second window ICG (SWIG), in patients undergoing surgery for brain metastases. In this prospective cohort study, the authors evaluated intraoperative imaging and clinical outcomes of treatment using SWIG.


Patients were prospectively enrolled in an approved study of high-dose, delayed ICG (SWIG) and received 5 mg/kg (2014–2018) or 2.5 mg/kg (2018–2019) ICG 24 hours preoperatively. Intraoperatively, near-infrared (NIR) imaging was performed using a dedicated NIR exoscope. NIR images were analyzed and the signal-to-background ratio (SBR) was calculated to quantify fluorescence. Residual fluorescence on the postresection NIR view was compared and correlated to the residual gadolinium enhancement on postoperative MRI. Patient survival and predictive factors were analyzed.


In total, 51 intracranial metastases were surgically treated in 47 patients in this cohort. All 51 metastatic tumors demonstrated strong NIR fluorescence (mean SBR 4.9). In tumors ≤ 10 mm from the cortical surface, SWIG with 5 mg/kg ICG produced enhanced transdural tumor visibility (91.3%) compared to 2.5 mg/kg (52.9%; p = 0.0047). Neoplastic margin detection using NIR fluorescence compared to white light improved sensitivity, albeit lowered specificity; however, increasing the SBR cutoff for positive fluorescence significantly improved specificity without sacrificing sensitivity, increasing the overall accuracy from 57.5% to 72.5%. A lack of residual NIR fluorescence after resection was closely correlated with a lack of residual enhancement on postoperative MRI (p = 0.007). Among the 16 patients in whom tumor recurred at the site of surgery, postoperative MRI successfully predicted 8 cases, whereas the postresection NIR view predicted 12 cases. Progression-free survival rate at 12 months was greater for patients without residual NIR fluorescence (38%) than for those without residual enhancement on postoperative MRI (29%).


The current study demonstrates the clinical benefits of the SWIG technique in surgery for patients with brain metastases. Specifically, this technique allows for dose-dependent, transdural localization of neoplasms and improved sensitivity in neoplastic margin detection. Postresection residual fluorescence can be a powerful tool to evaluate extent of resection in conjunction with MRI, and it may guide decisions on brain metastasis management.