Liquid perfluorocarbon-based nanodroplets are stable enough to be used in extravascular imaging, but provide limited contrast enhancement due to their small size, incompressible core, and small acoustic impedance mismatch with biological fluids. Here we show a novel approach to overcoming this limitation by using a heating-cooling cycle, which we will refer to as thermal modulation (TM), to induce echogenicity of otherwise stable but poorly echogenic nanodroplets without triggering a transient phase shift. We apply thermal modulation to high-boiling point tetradecafluorohexane (TDFH) nanodroplets stabilized with a bovine serum albumin (BSA) shell. BSA-TDFH nanodroplets with an average diameter under 300 nanometers showed an 11.9 ± 5.4 mean fold increase in echogenicity on the B-mode and a 13.9 ± 6.9 increase on the nonlinear contrast (NLC) mode after thermal modulation. Once activated, the particles maintained their enhanced echogenicity (p < 0.001) for at least 13 h while retaining their nanoscale size. Our data indicate that thermally modulated nanodroplets can potentially serve as theranostic agents or sensors for various applications of contrast-enhanced ultrasound.
Keywords: biosensor; contrast agent; nanodroplet; nanoemulsion; nanotechnology; perfluorocarbon; phase-shift; thermally-responsive; ultrasound.