Mechanisms of contrast agent destruction

IEEE Trans Ultrason Ferroelectr Freq Control. 2001 Jan;48(1):232-48. doi: 10.1109/58.896136.


Various applications of contrast-assisted ultrasound, including blood vessel detection, perfusion estimation, and drug delivery, require controlled destruction of contrast agent microbubbles. The lifetime of a bubble depends on properties of the bubble shell, the gas core, and the acoustic waveform impinging on the bubble. Three mechanisms of microbubble destruction are considered: fragmentation, acoustically driven diffusion, and static diffusion. Fragmentation is responsible for rapid destruction of contrast agents on a time scale of microseconds. The primary characteristics of fragmentation are a very large expansion and subsequent contraction, resulting in instability of the bubble. Optical studies using a novel pulsed-laser optical system show the expansion and contraction of ultrasound contrast agent microbubbles with the ratio of maximum diameter to minimum diameter greater than 10. Fragmentation is dependent on the transmission pressure, occurring in over 55% of bubbles insonified with a peak negative transmission pressure of 2.4 MPa and in less than 10% of bubbles insonified with a peak negative transmission pressure of 0.8 MPa. The echo received from a bubble decorrelates significantly within two pulses when the bubble is fragmented, creating an opportunity for rapid detection of bubbles via a decorrelation-based analysis. Preliminary findings with a mouse tumor model verify the occurrence of fragmentation in vivo. A much slower mechanism of bubble destruction is diffusion, which is driven by both a concentration gradient between the concentration of gas in the bubble compared with the concentration of gas in the liquid, as well as convective effects of motion of the gas-liquid interface. The rate of diffusion increases during insonation, because of acoustically driven diffusion, producing changes in diameter on the time scale of the acoustic pulse length, thus, on the order of microseconds. Gas bubbles diffuse while they are not being insonified, termed static diffusion. An air bubble with initial diameter of 2 microns in water at 37 degrees C is predicted to fully dissolve within 25 ms. Clinical ultrasound contrast agents are often designed with a high molecular weight core in an attempt to decrease the diffusion rate. C3F8 and C4F10 gas bubbles of the same size are predicted to fully dissolve within 400 ms and 4000 ms, respectively. Optical experiments involving gas diffusion of a contrast agent support the theoretical predictions; however, shelled agents diffuse at a much slower rate without insonation, on the order of minutes to hours. Shell properties play a significant role in the rate of static diffusion by blocking the gas-liquid interface and decreasing the transport of gas into the surrounding liquid. Static diffusion decreases the diameter of albumin-shelled agents to a greater extent than lipid-shelled agents after insonation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / diagnostic imaging*
  • Contrast Media / administration & dosage
  • Contrast Media / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Phospholipids / administration & dosage
  • Phospholipids / chemistry
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Ultrasonography / methods*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Contrast Media
  • Phospholipids