OBJECTIVE. In this article, we summarize the progress to date on the use of superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) as contrast agents for MRI of inflammatory processes. CONCLUSION. Phagocytosis by macrophages of injected SPIONs results in a prolonged shortening of both T2 and T2* leading to hypointensity of macrophage-infiltrated tissues in contrast-enhanced MR images. SPIONs as contrast agents are therefore useful for the in vivo MRI detection of macrophage infiltration, and there is substantial research and clinical interest in the use of SPION-based contrast agents for MRI of infection and inflammation. This technique has been used to identify active infection in patients with septic arthritis and osteomyelitis; importantly, the MRI signal intensity of the tissue has been found to return to its unenhanced value on successful treatment of the infection. In SPION contrast-enhanced MRI of vascular inflammation, animal studies have shown decreased macrophage uptake in atherosclerotic plaques after treatment with statin drugs. Human studies have shown that both coronary and carotid plaques that take up SPIONs are more prone to rupture and that abdominal aneurysms with increased SPION uptake are more likely to grow. Studies of patients with multiple sclerosis suggest that MRI using SPIONs may have increased sensitivity over gadolinium for plaque detection. Finally, SPIONs have enabled the tracking and imaging of transplanted stem cells in a recipient host.
Keywords: MRI; ferumoxytol; infection; inflammation; macrophages; superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs).