Focused ultrasound (FUS)-mediated blood-brain barrier disruption (BBBD) can enable even large therapeutics such as stem cells to enter the brain from the bloodstream. However, the efficiency is relatively low. Our previous study showed that human neural progenitor cells (hNPCs) loaded with superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) in culture were attracted by an external magnetic field. In vivo, enhanced brain retention was observed near a magnet mounted on the skull in a rat model of traumatic brain injury, where BBBD also occurs. The goal of the current study was to determine whether magnetic attraction of SPION-loaded hNPCs would also enhance their retention in the brain after FUS-mediated BBBD. A small animal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)-guided FUS system operating at 1.5 MHz was used to treat rats (∼120 g) without tissue damage or hemorrhage. Evidence of successful BBBD was validated with both radiologic enhancement of gadolinium on postsonication TI MRI and whole brain section visualization of Evans blue dye. The procedure was then combined with the application of a powerful magnet to the head directly after intravenous injection of the hNPCs. Validation of cells within the brain was performed by staining with Perls' Prussian blue for iron and by immunohistochemistry with a human-specific antigen. By injecting equal numbers of iron oxide (SPIONs) and noniron oxide nanoparticles-loaded hNPCs, each labeled with a different fluorophore, we found significantly greater numbers of SPIONs-loaded cells retained in the brain at the site of BBBD as compared to noniron loaded cells. This result was most pronounced in regions of the brain closest to the skull (dorsal cortex) in proximity to the magnet surface. A more powerful magnet and a Halbach magnetic array resulted in more effective retention of SPION-labeled cells in even deeper brain regions such as the striatum and ventral cortex. There, up to 90% of hNPCs observed contained SPIONs compared to 60% to 70% with the less powerful magnet. Fewer cells were observed at 24 h posttreatment compared to 2 h (primarily in the dorsal cortex). These results demonstrate that magnetic attraction can substantially enhance the retention of stem cells after FUS-mediated BBBD. This procedure could provide a safer and less invasive approach for delivering stem cells to the brain, compared to direct intracranial injections, substantially reducing the risk of bleeding and infection.
Keywords: blood–brain barrier; focused ultrasound; human neural progenitor cells; magnetic attraction; magnetic resonance imaging.