Iron oxide nanoparticles (IONPs) are used in various MRI applications as negative contrast agents. A major challenge is to distinguish regions of signal void due to IONPs from those due to low signal tissues or susceptibility artifacts. To overcome this limitation, several positive contrast strategies have been proposed. Relying on IONP T1 shortening effects to generate positive contrast is a particularly appealing strategy because it should provide additional specificity when associated with the usual negative contrast from effective transverse relaxation time (T2) effects. In this article, ultrashort echo time imaging is shown to be a powerful technique which can take full advantage of both contrast mechanisms. Methods of comparing T 1 and T2* contrast efficiency are described and general rules that allow optimizing IONP detection sensitivity are derived. Contrary to conventional wisdom, optimizing T1 contrast is often a good strategy for imaging IONPs. Under certain conditions, subtraction of a later echo signal from the ultrashort echo time signal not only improves IONP specificity by providing long T2* background suppression but also increases detection sensitivity, as it enables a synergistic combination of usually antagonist T1 and T2* contrasts. In vitro experiments support our theory, and a molecular imaging application is demonstrated using tumor-targeted IONPs in vivo.
- iron oxide nanoparticle
- positive contrast
- sequence optimization
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging