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Magn Reson Med. 2005 Feb;53(2):329-38.

Sizing it up: cellular MRI using micron-sized iron oxide particles.

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Laboratory of Functional and Molecular Imaging, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


There is rapidly increasing interest in the use of MRI to track cell migration in intact animals. Currently, cell labeling is usually accomplished by endocytosis of nanometer-sized, dextran-coated iron oxide particles. The limitations of using nanometer-sized particles, however, are that millions of particles are required to achieve sufficient contrast, the label can be diluted beyond observability by cell division, and the label is biodegradable. These problems make it difficult to label cells other than macrophages in vivo, and to conduct long-term engraftment studies. It was recently demonstrated that micron-sized iron oxide particles (MPIOs) can be taken up by a number of cell types. In this study we examined the MRI properties of single MPIOs with sizes of 0.96, 1.63, 2.79, 4.50, and 5.80 microm. Furthermore, the capacity of cells to endocytose these MPIOs was investigated, and the MRI properties of the labeled cells at 7.0 and 11.7 Tesla were measured as a function of image resolution and echo time (TE). Cells labeled with MPIOs generally contained iron levels of approximately 100 pg, which is approximately threefold higher than those obtained with the best strategies to label cells using nanometer-sized particles. On occasion, some cells had levels as high as approximately 400 pg. We demonstrate that these large particles and the cells labeled with them can be detected by spin echo (SE)-based imaging methods. These measurements indicate that MPIOs should be useful for improving cell tracking by MRI.

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