Focused ultrasound for safe and effective release of brain tumor biomarkers into the peripheral circulation

PLoS One. 2020 Jun 3;15(6):e0234182. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234182. eCollection 2020.


The development of noninvasive approaches for brain tumor diagnosis and monitoring continues to be a major medical challenge. Although blood-based liquid biopsy has received considerable attention in various cancers, limited progress has been made for brain tumors, at least partly due to the hindrance of tumor biomarker release into the peripheral circulation by the blood-brain barrier. Focused ultrasound (FUS) combined with microbubbles induced BBB disruption has been established as a promising technique for noninvasive and localized brain drug delivery. Building on this established technique, we propose to develop FUS-enabled liquid biopsy technique (FUS-LBx) to enhance the release of brain tumor biomarkers (e.g., DNA, RNA, and proteins) into the circulation. The objective of this study was to demonstrate that FUS-LBx could sufficiently increase plasma levels of brain tumor biomarkers without causing hemorrhage in the brain. Mice with orthotopic implantation of enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP)-transfected murine glioma cells were treated using magnetic resonance (MR)-guided FUS system in the presence of systemically injected microbubbles at three peak negative pressure levels (0.59, 1.29, and 1.58 MPa). Plasma eGFP mRNA levels were quantified with the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Contrast-enhanced MR images were acquired before and after the FUS sonication. FUS at 0.59 MPa resulted in an increased plasma eGFP mRNA level, comparable to those at higher acoustic pressures (1.29 MPa and 1.58 MPa). Microhemorrhage density associated with FUS at 0.59 MPa was significantly lower than that at higher acoustic pressures and not significantly different from the control group. MRI analysis revealed that post-sonication intratumoral and peritumoral hyperenhancement had strong correlations with the level of FUS-induced biomarker release and the extent of hemorrhage. This study suggests that FUS-LBx could be a safe and effective brain-tumor biomarker release technique, and MRI could be used to develop image-guided FUS-LBx.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Brain Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Cell Line, Tumor
  • Contrast Media
  • Female
  • Glioblastoma / diagnostic imaging
  • Glioblastoma / metabolism*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / blood
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / etiology
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / pathology
  • Liquid Biopsy / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Mice
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional / adverse effects
  • Ultrasonography, Interventional / methods*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Contrast Media
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins