Comparing Strategies in the Design of Responsive Contrast Agents for Magnetic Resonance Imaging: A Case Study with Copper and Zinc

Valérie C. Pierre, Sarah M. Harris, Sylvie L. Pailloux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


ConspectusMagnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has emerged over the years as one of the preferred modalities for medical diagnostic and biomedical research. It has the advantage over other imaging modalities such as positron emission tomography and X-ray of affording high resolution three-dimensional images of the body without using harmful radiation. The use of contrast agents has further expanded this technique by increasing the contrast between regions where they accumulate and background tissues. As MRI most often measures the relaxation rate of water throughout the body, contrast agents function by modulating the intensity of the water signal either via improved relaxation or via saturation transfer to selected exchangeable proton. Among the growing class of MRI contrast agents, a subset of them called "smart" contrast agents function as responsive probes. Their ability to increase or decrease their signal intensity is modulated by the presence of an analyte. These probes offer the unique ability to image the distribution of an analyte in vivo, thereby opening new possibilities for diagnostics and for elucidating the role of specific analytes in various pathologies or biological processes. A number of different strategies can be exploited to design responsive MRI contrast agents. The majority of contrast agents are based on GdIII complexes. These complexes can be rendered responsive in either of two ways: either by modulating the number of inner-sphere water molecules, q, or via modulating the rotational correlation time, δR, of the contrast agent upon substrate binding. The longitudinal relaxivity increases with the number of inner-sphere water molecules. GdIII complexes can be rendered responsive if they contain a recognition moiety that can bind to both the open coordination site of GdIII and to the analyte. When the recognition moiety leaves the lanthanide ion to bind to the analyte, q increases and therefore so does the relaxivity. The dependence of relaxivity on rotational correlation time is more complex and more pronounced at lower magnetic fields. In general, slower tumbling macromolecules have longer rotational correlation times and higher relaxivities. Analyte-triggered formation of macromolecules thus also increases relaxivity. Such macromolecules can either be analyte-templated supramolecular assemblies, or analyte-enhanced protein-contrast agent complexes. Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer (CEST) agents are a newer class of contrast agents that offer the possibility of multifrequency and thus ratiometric imaging, which in turn enables quantitative mapping of the concentration of an analyte in vivo under conditions where the concentration of the contrast agent is not known. Such agents can be rendered responsive if the analyte changes the number of exchangeable proton(s), its exchange rate, or its chemical shift. All of these approaches have been successfully employed for detecting and imaging both copper and zinc, including in vivo. Magnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles (MIONs) are powerful MRI transverse relaxation agents. They can also be rendered responsive to an analyte if the latter can control the aggregation of the nanoparticles. For metal ions, this can be achieved via chemical functionalities that only react to form conjugates in the presence of the metal ion analyte.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)342-351
Number of pages10
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 20 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
*Phone: 612-625-0921. E-mail: ORCID Valeŕ ie C. Pierre: 0000-0002-0907-8395 Sarah M. Harris: 0000-0002-6515-3548 Sylvie L. Pailloux: 0000-0001-7318-7089 Funding This work was supported by the National Science Foundation Grant No. CAREER 1151665. Notes The authors declare no competing financial interest.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 American Chemical Society.

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