In this study, we investigated the role of the chemical nature of the oil droplet core of nano-emulsions used as contrast agents for X-ray imaging on their pharmacokinetics and biodistribution. To this end, we formulated PEGylated nano-emulsions with two iodinated oils (i.e., iodinated monoglyceride and iodinated castor oil) and compared them with another iodinated nano-emulsion based on iodinated vitamin E. By using dynamic light scattering and transmission electron microscopy, the three iodinated nano-emulsions were found to exhibit comparable morphologies, size, and surface composition. Furthermore, they were shown to be endowed with very high iodine concentration, which leads to stronger X-ray attenuation properties as compared to the commercial iodinated nano-emulsion Fenestra VC. The three nano-emulsions were i.v. administered in mice and monitored by microcomputed tomography (micro-CT). They showed high contrast enhancement in blood with similar half-life around 6 h but very different accumulation sites. While iodinated monoglycerides exhibited low accumulation in liver and spleen, high accumulation in spleen was observed for iodinated castor oil and in liver for vitamin E. These data clearly highlighted the important role of the oil composition of the nano-emulsion core to obtain strong X-ray contrast enhancement in specific targets such as liver, spleen, or only blood. These differences in biodistribution were partly attributed to differences in the uptake of the nanodroplets by the macrophages in vitro. Another key feature of these nano-emulsions is their long half-elimination time (several weeks), which offers sufficient retention for micro-CT imaging. This work paves the way for the design of nanoparticulate contrast agents for X-ray imaging of selected organs.
Keywords: X-ray imaging; contrast agent; micro-CT; nano-emulsion; targeting.