Engineering a pH-Sensitive Liposomal MRI Agent by Modification of a Bacterial Channel

Small. 2018 May;14(19):e1704256. doi: 10.1002/smll.201704256. Epub 2018 Apr 11.


MscL is a bacterial mechanosensitive channel that serves as a cellular emergency release valve, protecting the cell from lysis upon a drop in external osmolarity. The channel has an extremely large pore (30 Å) and can be purified and reconstituted into artificial membranes. Moreover, MscL is modified to open in response to alternative external stimuli including changes in pH. These properties suggest this channel's potential as a triggered "nanopore" for localized release of vesicular contents such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents and drugs. Toward this end, several variants of pH-triggered MscL nanovalves are engineered. Stealth vesicles previously been shown to evade normal in vivo clearance and passively accumulate in inflamed and malignant tissues are reconstituted. These vesicles are loaded with 1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane tetraacetic acid gadolinium complex (Gd-DOTA), an MRI contrast reagent, and the resulting nanodevices tested for their ability to release Gd-DOTA as evidenced by enhancement of the longitudinal relaxation rate (R1 ) of the bulk water proton spins. Nanovalves that are responsive to physiological pH changes are identified, but differ in sensitivity and efficacy, thus giving an array of nanovalves that could potentially be useful in different settings. These triggered nanodevices may be useful in delivering both diagnostic and therapeutic agents.

Keywords: MscL; drug targeting; nanovalves; pH sensors; theranostics.

MeSH terms

  • Escherichia coli Proteins / metabolism*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Liposomes / chemistry*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Nanopores


  • Escherichia coli Proteins
  • Ion Channels
  • Liposomes
  • MscL protein, E coli