Micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) is an emerging imaging modality, due to the low cost of the imagers as well as their efficiency in establishing high-resolution (1-100 μm) three-dimensional images of small laboratory animals and facilitating rapid, structural and functional in vivo visualization. However use of a contrast agent is absolutely necessary when imaging soft tissues. The main limitation of micro-CT is the low efficiency and toxicity of the commercially available blood pool contrast agents. This study proposes new, efficient and non-toxic contrast agents for micro-CT imaging. This formulation consists of iodinated vitamin E (α-tocopheryl 2,3,5-triiodobenzoate) as an oily phase, formulated as liquid nano-emulsion droplets (by low-energy nano-emulsification), surrounded by a hairy PEG layer to confer stealth properties. The originality and strength of these new contrast agents lie not only in their outstanding contrasting properties, biocompatibility and low toxicity, but also in the simplicity of their fabrication: one-step synthesis of highly iodinated oil (iodine constitutes 41.7% of the oil molecule weight) and its spontaneous emulsification. After i.v. administration in mice (8.5% of blood volume), the product shows stealth properties towards the immune system and thus acts as an efficient blood pool contrast agent (t(1/2) = 9.0 h), exhibiting blood clearance following mono-exponential decay. A gradual accumulation predominantly due to hepatocyte uptake is observed and measured in the liver, establishing a strong hepatic contrast, persistent for more than four months. To summarize, in the current range of available or developed contrast agents for preclinical X-ray imaging, this agent appears to be one of the most efficient.
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