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Exp Neurol. 1993 Oct;123(2):235-42.

MR imaging of slow axonal transport in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston 02114.


Three magnetopharmaceuticals based on a monocrystalline iron oxide nanocompound (MION) are evaluated as potential contrast agents for demonstrating axonal transport in vivo by magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. One agent has a strong positive charge, one has a strong negative charge, and the third is covalently linked to wheat germ agglutinin, a plant lectin with a high affinity for axon terminals. All three agents were tagged with rhodamine, and fluorescence microscopy was used to determine their fate after administration and to validate the imaging results. Following injection into or near various neural structures in the motor and visual systems of rats, MR images were obtained at multiple times up to 11 days later, and the imaged tissues were processed for subsequent histological examination. Similar results were obtained with all three agents. Axonal transport was not seen by MR imaging or fluorescence microscopy when the agents were injected into the calf muscles, the vitreous of the eye, or the superior colliculus. However, bidirectional axonal transport was shown unequivocally by both methods after injection directly into the site of a focal crush injury to the sciatic nerve. The nerve, which otherwise is isointense with surrounding tissues on MR images, appeared as a uniformly hypointense structure having a length approximately in proportion to the time from injection to imaging. By 11 days, the course of the nerve was traceable from its component roots in the cauda equina to its bifurcation into the tibial and common peroneal nerves in the leg. A transport rate of about 5 mm/day was calculated, which is consistent with the mechanism of slow transport. MION-based magnetopharmaceuticals thus can be used to demonstrate slow axonal transport, and thereby visualize peripheral nerves, in vivo by MR imaging.

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