Paramagnetic chemical exchange saturation transfer (PARACEST) complexes are exogenous contrast agents that have great potential to further extend the functional and molecular imaging capabilities of magnetic resonance. As a result of the presence of a central paramagnetic lanthanide ion (Ln(3+) ≠ La(3+) , Gd(3+) , Lu(3+) ) within the chelate, the resonance frequencies of exchangeable protons bound to the PARACEST agent are shifted far away from the bulk water frequency. This large chemical shift, combined with an extreme sensitivity to the chemical exchange rate, make PARACEST agents ideally suited for the reporting of significant biological metrics, such as temperature, pH and the presence of metabolites. In addition, the ability to turn PARACEST agents 'off' and 'on' using a frequency-selective saturation pulse gives them a distinct advantage over Gd(3+) -based contrast agents. A current challenge for PARACEST research is the translation of the promising in vitro results into in vivo systems. This short review article first describes the basic theory behind PARACEST contrast agents, their benefits over other contrast agents and their applications to MRI. It then describes some of the recent PARACEST research results: specifically, pH measurements using water molecule exchange rate modulation, T2 exchange contrast caused by water molecule exchange, the use of ultrashort TEs (TE < 10 µs) to overcome T2 exchange line broadening and the potential application of T2 exchange as a new contrast mechanism for MRI.
Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.