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Magn Reson Med. 2006 Feb;55(2):242-9.

In vivo detection of single cells by MRI.

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


The use of high-relaxivity, intracellular contrast agents has enabled MRI monitoring of cell migration through and homing to various tissues, such as brain, spinal cord, heart, and muscle. Here it is shown that MRI can detect single cells in vivo, homing to tissue, following cell labeling and transplantation. Primary mouse hepatocytes were double-labeled with green fluorescent 1.63-microm iron oxide particles and red fluorescent endosomal labeling dye, and injected into the spleens of recipient mice. This is a common hepatocyte transplantation paradigm in rodents whereby hepatocytes migrate from the spleen to the liver as single cells. One month later the animals underwent in vivo MRI and punctuated, dark contrast regions were detected scattered through the livers. MRI of perfused, fixed samples and labeled hepatocyte phantoms in combination with histological evaluation confirmed the presence of dispersed single hepatocytes grafted into the livers. Appropriate controls were used to determine whether the observed contrast could have been due to dead cells or free particles, and the results confirmed that the contrast was due to disperse, single cells. Detecting single cells in vivo opens the door to a number of experiments, such as monitoring rare cellular events, assessing the kinetics of stem cell homing, and achieving early detection of metastases.

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