Nano Research

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 1625–1641 | Cite as

Cell-assembled (Gd-DOTA)i-triphenylphosphonium (TPP) nanoclusters as a T2 contrast agent reveal in vivo fates of stem cell transplants

  • Yanhui Zhang
  • Hongyan Zhang
  • Binbin Li
  • Hailu Zhang
  • Bo TanEmail author
  • Zongwu DengEmail author
Research Article


A simple and straightforward strategy for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of stem cell transplants in terms of their viability, migration and homing, and differentiation has been pursued over the years. Herein we couple Gd-DOTA with triphenylphosphonium (TPP) to yield small molecule (Gd-DOTA)i-TPP (i = 1,4) agents and show that labeling cells with (Gd-DOTA)i-TPP via electroporation (EP) results in two distinct cellular distributions of (Gd-DOTA)i-TPP: freely and evenly distributed in the cytosol or cell-assembled nanoclusters in the cytoplasm. The two distinct cellular distributions contribute in different ways to MRI signals in vitro and in vivo. Importantly, we present a detailed interpretation of MRI results based on the signal intensity equation and cellular longitudinal (T1-) and transverse (T2-) relaxation rates of water protons. We demonstrate that cell-assembled (Gd-DOTA)i-TPP nanoclusters not only promote its intracellular retention time but also induce significant MRI signal reduction, which act as an excellent T2 contrast agent and allows for unambiguous reporting of in vivo viability and migration of cell transplants under T2-weighted MRI over a long period. Notably, (Gd-DOTA)i-TPP agents released as a result of exocytosis or cell death induce signal enhancement in the surrounding tissue such that the labeled cells can be unambiguously discriminated from its host tissue. The labeling and imaging strategy provides abundant information on the in vivo fates of stem cell transplants. The strategy features a single contrast, single imaging mode with dual signal output.


magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) GDL contrast agent cell transplantation stem cells cell viability 


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This work was funded by general projects from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 21673281, 31371010), a Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. XDA01030203), and a Basic Research Project from the Ministry of Science and Technology of China (No. 2011CB965004). The authors also acknowledge Karebay Biochem Inc. for assistance with synthesis of DOTAi-TPP.

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Cell-assembled (Gd-DOTA)i-triphenylphosphonium (TPP) nanoclusters as a T2 contrast agent reveal in vivo fates of stem cell transplants


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© Tsinghua University Press and Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CAS Key Laboratory of Nano-Bio Interface and Division of Nanobionics Research, Suzhou Institute of Nano-tech and Nano-bionicsChinese Academy of SciencesSuzhouChina
  2. 2.College of SciencesShanghai UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.Institute of Environmental and Chemical EngineeringShanghai UniversityShanghaiChina
  4. 4.Institute of Nanoscience and NanotechnologyUniversity of Science and Technology of ChinaSuzhouChina

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