Purpose: To test the feasibility of electron paramagnetic resonance imaging (EPRI) to provide non-invasive images of tissue redox status using redox-sensitive paramagnetic contrast agents.
Material and methods: Nitroxide free radicals were used as paramagnetic agents and a custom-built 300 MHz EPR spectrometer/imager was used for all studies. A phantom was constructed consisting of four tubes containing equal concentrations of a nitroxide. Varying concentrations of hypoxanthine/xanthine oxidase were added to each tube and reduction of the nitroxide was monitored by EPR as a function of time. Tumor-bearing mice were intravenously infused with a nitroxide and the corresponding reduction rate was monitored on a pixel-by-pixel basis using 2D EPR of the tumor-bearing leg and normal leg serving as control. For animal studies, nitroxides were injected intravenously (1.25 mmol/kg) and EPR projections were collected every 3 min after injection using a magnetic field gradient of 2.5 G/cm. The reduction rates of signal intensity on a pixel-by-pixel basis were calculated and plotted as a redox map. Redox maps were also collected from the mice treated with diethylmaleate (DEM), which depletes tissue thiols and alters the global redox status.
Results: Redox maps obtained from the phantoms were in agreement with the intensity change in each of the tubes where the signals were decreasing as a function of the enzymatic activity, validating the ability of EPRI to accurately access changes in nitroxide reduction. Redox imaging capability of EPR was next evaluated in vivo. EPR images of the nitroxide distribution and reduction rates in tumor-bearing leg of mice exhibited more heterogeneity than in the normal tissue. Reduction rates were found to be significantly decreased in tumors of mice treated with DEM, consistent with the depletion of thiols and the consequent alteration of the redox status.
Conclusion: Using redox-sensitive paramagnetic contrast agents, EPRI can non-invasively discriminate redox status differences between normal tissue and tumors.