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Nat Protoc. 2017 Oct;12(10):2050-2080. doi: 10.1038/nprot.2017.081. Epub 2017 Sep 7.

Preparation of biogenic gas vesicle nanostructures for use as contrast agents for ultrasound and MRI.

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Division of Biology and Biological Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA.
Molecular Imaging, Department of Structural Biology, Leibniz-Forschungsinstitute für Molekulare Pharmakologie, Berlin, Germany.
Sunnybrook Research Institute, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Gas vesicles (GVs) are a unique class of gas-filled protein nanostructures that are detectable at subnanomolar concentrations and whose physical properties allow them to serve as highly sensitive imaging agents for ultrasound and MRI. Here we provide a protocol for isolating GVs from native and heterologous host organisms, functionalizing these nanostructures with moieties for targeting and fluorescence, characterizing their biophysical properties and imaging them using ultrasound and MRI. GVs can be isolated from natural cyanobacterial and haloarchaeal host organisms or from Escherichia coli expressing a heterologous GV gene cluster and purified using buoyancy-assisted techniques. They can then be modified by replacing surface-bound proteins with engineered, heterologously expressed variants or through chemical conjugation, resulting in altered mechanical, surface and targeting properties. Pressurized absorbance spectroscopy is used to characterize their mechanical properties, whereas dynamic light scattering (DLS)and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) are used to determine nanoparticle size and morphology, respectively. GVs can then be imaged with ultrasound in vitro and in vivo using pulse sequences optimized for their detection versus background. They can also be imaged with hyperpolarized xenon MRI using chemical exchange saturation transfer between GV-bound and dissolved xenon-a technique currently implemented in vitro. Taking 3-8 d to prepare, these genetically encodable nanostructures enable multimodal, noninvasive biological imaging with high sensitivity and potential for molecular targeting.

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