PK 11195 and DAA1106 bind with high-affinity to the translocator protein (TSPO, formerly known as the peripheral benzodiazepine receptor). TSPO expression in glial cells increases in response to cytokines and pathological stimuli. Accordingly, [(11)C]-PK 11195 and [(11)C]-DAA1106 are recognized molecular imaging (MI) agents capable of monitoring changes in TSPO expression occurring in vivo and in response to various neuropathologies.Here we tested the pharmacological characteristics and TSPO-monitoring potential of two novel MI agents: NIR-conPK and NIR-6T. NIR-conPK is an analogue of PK 11195 conjugated to the near-infrared (NIR) emitting fluorophore: IRDye 800CW. NIR-6T is a DAA1106 analogue also conjugated to IRDye 800CW.We found that NIR-6T competed for [(3)H]-PK 11195 binding in astrocytoma cell homogenates with nanomolar affinity, but did not exhibit specific binding in intact astrocytoma cells in culture, indicating that NIR-6T is unlikely to constitute a useful MI agent for monitoring TSPO expression in intact cells. Conversely, we found that NIR-conPK did not compete for [(3)H]-PK 11195 binding in astrocytoma cell homogenate, but exhibited specific binding in intact astrocytoma cells in culture with nanomolar affinity, suggesting that NIR-conPK binds to a protein distinct, but related to, TSPO. Accordingly, treating intact astrocytoma cells and microglia in culture with cytokines led to significant changes in the amount of NIR-conPK specific binding without corresponding change in TSPO expression. Remarkably, the cytokine-induced changes in the protein targeted by NIR-conPK in intact microglia were selective, since IFN-gamma (but not TNFalpha and TGFbeta) increased the amount of NIR-conPK specific binding in these cells.Together these results suggest that NIR-conPK binds to a protein that is related to TSPO, and expressed by astrocytomas and microglia. Our results also suggest that the expression of this protein is increased by specific cytokines, and thus allows for the monitoring of a particular subtype of microglia activation.