Magnetic Particle Spectroscopy Reveals Dynamic Changes in the Magnetic Behavior of Very Small Superparamagnetic Iron Oxide Nanoparticles During Cellular Uptake and Enables Determination of Cell-Labeling Efficacy

J Biomed Nanotechnol. 2016 Feb;12(2):337-46. doi: 10.1166/jbn.2016.2204.


In vivo tracking of nanoparticle-labeled cells by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) crucially depends on accurate determination of cell-labeling efficacy prior to transplantation. Here, we analyzed the feasibility and accuracy of magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS) for estimation of cell-labeling efficacy in living THP-1 cells incubated with very small superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (VSOP). Cell viability and proliferation capacity were not affected by the MPS measurement procedure. In VSOP samples without cell contact, MPS enabled highly accurate quantification. In contrast, MPS constantly overestimated the amount of cell associated and internalized VSOP. Analyses of the MPS spectrum shape expressed as harmonic ratio A₅/A₃ revealed distinct changes in the magnetic behavior of VSOP in response to cellular uptake. These changes were proportional to the deviation between MPS and actual iron amount, therefore allowing for adjusted iron quantification. Transmission electron microscopy provided visual evidence that changes in the magnetic properties correlated with cell surface interaction of VSOP as well as with alterations of particle structure and arrangement during the phagocytic process. Altogether, A₅/A₃-adjusted MPS enables highly accurate, cell-preserving VSOP quantification and furthermore provides information on the magnetic characteristics of internalized VSOP.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cell Communication
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Dextrans / chemistry*
  • Endocytosis*
  • Humans
  • Iron / analysis
  • Macrophages / ultrastructure
  • Magnetics*
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Spectrum Analysis*
  • Staining and Labeling*
  • Time Factors


  • Dextrans
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • Iron
  • ferumoxides