Macrophage endocytosis of superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles: mechanisms and comparison of ferumoxides and ferumoxtran-10

Invest Radiol. 2004 Jan;39(1):56-63. doi: 10.1097/01.rli.0000101027.57021.28.


Rationale and objectives: Superparamagnetic iron oxides (SPIO) used as magnetic resonance (MR) contrast agents undergo specific uptake by macrophages. The purpose of this study was first to determine the mechanism of macrophage uptake for Ferumoxides by using competition experiments with specific ligands of scavenger receptors SR-A (I/II) and second, to evaluate and compare the internalization of 2 different contrast agents, Ferumoxides (SPIO) and Ferumoxtran-10 (USPIO: ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide) using macrophages obtained by chemical activation of human monocytic cells.

Methods: Ferumoxides and Ferumoxtran-10 are 2 MR contrast agents, composed of dextran-coated iron oxide nanoparticles. The endocytosis pathway of Ferumoxides was studied using competition experiments on mouse peritoneal macrophages in the presence of specific ligands of scavenger receptors SR-A (types I and II): polyinosinic acid and fucoidan. In vitro assays using THP-1 (human promonocyte) cells activated into macrophages were performed in the presence of the 2 superparamagnetic nanoparticles. The cellular uptake was determined by measuring the iron content using ICP-AES (inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectrometry) and by Prussian blue staining.

Results: In the presence of polyinosinic acid or fucoidan, the endocytosis of Ferumoxides by mouse peritoneal macrophages was inhibited. This inhibition was obtained using 10 microg/mL of scavenger receptor ligands at a concentration of 62.5 microg Fe/mL of SPIO, and a dose-dependent relationship was observed. Without competitors, the percentage of uptake of Ferumoxides by mouse peritoneal macrophages ranged between 3 and 8%. On the human activated monocyte THP-1 cell assay, Ferumoxides underwent a higher macrophage uptake (between 1.1 and 3%) compared with Ferumoxtran-10 (between 0.03 and 0.12%). This difference is attributed to the larger size of Ferumoxides nanoparticles.

Conclusions: Competition experiments indicate that the cellular uptake of Ferumoxides involves scavenger receptor SR-A-mediated endocytosis. The comparison between Ferumoxides and Ferumoxtran-10 confirms that macrophage uptake of iron oxide nanoparticles depends mainly on the size of these contrast agents.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD36 Antigens / drug effects
  • CD36 Antigens / metabolism
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Contrast Media / chemistry
  • Contrast Media / metabolism*
  • Dextrans
  • Endocytosis / physiology
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-1 / analysis
  • Iron / chemistry
  • Iron / metabolism*
  • Macrophage Activation
  • Macrophages / drug effects
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • Mice
  • Oxides / chemistry
  • Oxides / metabolism*
  • Particle Size
  • Poly I / pharmacology
  • Polysaccharides / pharmacology
  • Scavenger Receptors, Class A
  • Spectrophotometry, Atomic


  • CD36 Antigens
  • Contrast Media
  • Dextrans
  • Interleukin-1
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • Oxides
  • Polysaccharides
  • Scavenger Receptors, Class A
  • ferumoxtran-10
  • Poly I
  • fucoidan
  • Iron
  • ferumoxides
  • Ferrosoferric Oxide