Evaluating size-dependent relaxivity of PEGylated-USPIOs to develop gadolinium-free T1 contrast agents for vascular imaging

J Biomed Mater Res A. 2018 Sep;106(9):2440-2447. doi: 10.1002/jbm.a.36438.


Ultra-small superparamagnetic iron oxide (USPIO) nanoparticles provide a safer alternative to gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) in T1-weighted MR imaging. MRI contrast behavior of USPIOs depends on their magnetic properties, which in turn depend on their physicochemical composition. Identifying and tailoring USPIO structural characteristics that influence proton relaxation in MRI is crucial to developing effective gadolinium-free T1 contrast agents. Here, we present a systematic empirical evaluation of the relationship between USPIO size and MRI relaxivity (r1 and r2 values). Monodisperse USPIO cores, with precisely controlled core diameter (dC ) were synthesized via the thermal decomposition of iron(III)-oleate precursor. USPIOs with dC = 6.34, 7.58, 8.58, and 9.50nm, were dispersed in aqueous phase via ligand exchange with silane or dopamine-modified polyethylene glycol (PEG) polymers. Relaxivity characterization in a 1.5 T clinical MRI scanner showed the r2 /r1 ratio increased linearly with USPIO core diameter (R2 = 0.95), but varied little with both hydrodynamic diameter (dH ) and PEG molecular weight. One sample, DOPA-6-20 (6.34nm USPIO cores coated with 20 kDa dopamine-modified PEG), provided the lowest r2 /r1 value (3.44) and thus promise as a potential T1 contrast agent. In a preliminary study, we evaluated DOPA-6-20 for in vivo angiography imaging in a mouse with a 7 T scanner and observed strong T1-weighted enhancement of the mouse blood pool. Key anatomical features in the vascular network were visible even 5 min after intravenous administration. Using empirical data, we have presented the basis of a structure-property relationship that can help develop optimized USPIO-based T1 contrast agents. © 2018 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Biomed Mater Res Part A: 106A:2440-2447, 2018.

Keywords: MR relaxivity; T1 contrast enhancement; blood pool agent; nanoparticle ligand exchange; polyethylene glycol; ultra-small superparamagnetic iron oxides.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Vessels / diagnostic imaging*
  • Contrast Media / chemistry*
  • Dextrans / chemistry*
  • Dextrans / ultrastructure
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Gadolinium / chemistry*
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Ligands
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles / ultrastructure
  • Mice
  • Particle Size*
  • Phantoms, Imaging
  • Polyethylene Glycols / chemistry*


  • Contrast Media
  • Dextrans
  • Ligands
  • Magnetite Nanoparticles
  • ferumoxtran-10
  • Polyethylene Glycols
  • Gadolinium