MRI of the tumor microenvironment

J Magn Reson Imaging. 2002 Oct;16(4):430-50. doi: 10.1002/jmri.10181.


The microenvironment within tumors is significantly different from that in normal tissues. A major difference is seen in the chaotic vasculature of tumors, which results in unbalanced blood supply and significant perfusion heterogeneities. As a consequence, many regions within tumors are transiently or chronically hypoxic. This exacerbates tumor cells' natural tendency to overproduce acids, resulting in very acidic pH values. The hypoxia and acidity of tumors have important consequences for antitumor therapy and can contribute to the progression of tumors to a more aggressive metastatic phenotype. Over the past decade, techniques have emerged that allow the interrogation of the tumor microenvironment with high resolution and molecularly specific probes. Techniques are available to interrogate perfusion, vascular distribution, pH, and pO(2) nondestructively in living tissues with relatively high precision. Studies employing these methods have provided new insights into the causes and consequences of the hostile tumor microenvironment. Furthermore, it is quite exciting that there are emerging techniques that generate tumor image contrast via ill-defined mechanisms. Elucidation of these mechanisms will yield further insights into the tumor microenvironment. This review attempts to identify techniques and their application to tumor biology, with an emphasis on nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) approaches. Examples are also discussed using electron MR, optical, and radionuclear imaging techniques.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Hypoxia
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy*
  • Neoplasms / chemistry*
  • Neoplasms / ultrastructure*