Send to

Choose Destination
Res Rep Nucl Med. 2015;5:19-32.

Double agents and secret agents: the emerging fields of exogenous chemical exchange saturation transfer and T2-exchange magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents for molecular imaging.

Author information

Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA; Department of Biomedical engineering, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA; Department of Medical Imaging, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA; The University of Arizona Cancer Center, Tucson, AZ, USA.


Two relatively new types of exogenous magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents may provide greater impact for molecular imaging by providing greater specificity for detecting molecular imaging biomarkers. Exogenous chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) agents rely on the selective saturation of the magnetization of a proton on an agent, followed by chemical exchange of a proton from the agent to water. The selective detection of a biomarker-responsive CEST signal and an unresponsive CEST signal, followed by the ratiometric comparison of these signals, can improve biomarker specificity. We refer to this improvement as a "double-agent" approach to molecular imaging. Exogenous T2-exchange agents also rely on chemical exchange of protons between the agent and water, especially with an intermediate rate that lies between the slow exchange rates of CEST agents and the fast exchange rates of traditional T1 and T2 agents. Because of this intermediate exchange rate, these agents have been relatively unknown and have acted as "secret agents" in the contrast agent research field. This review exposes these secret agents and describes the merits of double agents through examples of exogenous agents that detect enzyme activity, nucleic acids and gene expression, metabolites, ions, redox state, temperature, and pH. Future directions are also provided for improving both types of contrast agents for improved molecular imaging and clinical translation. Therefore, this review provides an overview of two new types of exogenous contrast agents that are becoming useful tools within the armamentarium of molecular imaging.


CEST; T2 relaxation; T2ex; exchange rate; responsive agents

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center