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Department of Radiology

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Diagnosis | Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms | Radiology


Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Western cultures. The vast majority of cardiovascular events, including stroke and myocardial infarction, result from the rupture of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques, which are characterized by high and active macrophage content. Current imaging modalities including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) aim to characterize anatomic and structural features of plaques rather than their content. Previously, we reported that macrophage-targeted delivery of gadolinium (Gd)-based contrast agent (GBCA-HDL) using high density lipoproteins (HDL)-like particles significantly enhances the detection of plaques in an apolipoprotein (apo) E knockout (KO) mouse model, with an atherosclerotic wall/muscle normalized enhancement ratio (NER) of 120% achieved. These particles are comprised of lipids and synthetic peptide fragments of the major protein of HDL, apo A-I, that contain a naturally occurring modification which targets the particles to macrophages. Targeted delivery minimizes the Gd dose and thus reduces the adverse effects of Gd. The aims of the current study were to test whether varying the GBCA-HDL particle shape and composition can further enhance atherosclerotic plaque MRI and control organ clearance of these agents. We show that the optimized GBCA-HDL particles are efficiently delivered intracellularly to and uptaken by both J774 macrophages in vitro and more importantly, by intraplaque macrophages in vivo, as evidenced by NER up to 160% and higher. This suggests high diagnostic power of our GBCA-HDL particles in the detection of vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques. Further, in contrast to discoidal, spherical GBCA-HDL exhibit hepatic clearance, which could further diminish adverse renal effects of Gd. Finally, activated macrophages are reliable indicators of any inflamed tissues and are implicated in other areas of unmet clinical need such as rheumatoid arthritis, sepsis and cancer, suggesting the expanded diagnostic and prognostic use of this method.

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Copyright: 2015 Shen et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

DOI of Published Version



PLoS One. 2015 Nov 16;10(11):e0143453. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143453. eCollection 2015. Link to article on publisher's site

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PloS one

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.