Focused Ultrasound Immunotherapy for Central Nervous System Pathologies: Challenges and Opportunities

Theranostics. 2017 Aug 23;7(15):3608-3623. doi: 10.7150/thno.21225. eCollection 2017.


Immunotherapy is rapidly emerging as the cornerstone for the treatment of several forms of metastatic cancer, as well as for a host of other pathologies. Meanwhile, several new high-profile studies have uncovered remarkable linkages between the central nervous and immune systems. With these recent developments, harnessing the immune system for the treatment of brain pathologies is a promising strategy. Here, we contend that MR image-guided focused ultrasound (FUS) represents a noninvasive approach that will allow for favorable therapeutic immunomodulation in the setting of the central nervous system. One obstacle to effective immunotherapeutic drug delivery to the brain is the blood brain barrier (BBB), which refers to the specialized structure of brain capillaries that prevents transport of most therapeutics from the blood into brain tissue. When applied in the presence of circulating microbubbles, FUS can safely and transiently open the BBB to facilitate the delivery of immunotherapeutic agents into the brain parenchyma. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that physical perturbations of the tissue microenvironment via FUS can modulate immune response in both normal and diseased tissue. In this review article, we provide an overview of FUS energy regimens and corresponding tissue bioeffects, followed by a review of the literature pertaining to FUS for therapeutic antibody delivery in normal brain and preclinical models of brain disease. We provide an overview of studies that demonstrate FUS-mediated immune modulation in both the brain and peripheral settings. Finally, we provide remarks on challenges facing FUS immunotherapy and opportunities for future expansion in this area.

Keywords: brain tumors; focused ultrasound; immunotherapy; targeted drug and gene delivery.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / metabolism
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Ultrasonography / methods