Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

David P. Cormode


Cell tracking offers the opportunity to study migration and localization of cells in vivo, allowing investigations of disease mechanisms and drug efficacy. Monocytes play a key role in the progression of atherosclerotic plaques in the coronary arteries. While x-ray computed tomography (CT) is commonly used to clinically assess coronary plaque burden, cell tracking with CT is mostly unexplored. The establishment of monocyte cell tracking tools would allow for the direct investigation of gene and drug therapies aimed at monocyte recruitment in atherosclerosis. In this thesis, we present the design and optimization of gold nanoparticles as CT contrast agents for cell tracking of monocyte recruitment to atherosclerotic plaques. Gold nanoparticle polymer constructs with controlled localization are evaluated as potential monocyte labels. However, cytotoxic effects were observed at concentrations necessary for cell labeling. Therefore, variations in physical and chemical properties of gold nanoparticles were explored as cell labels for monocyte tracking. Each formulation was screened for effects on cell viability, cell function and uptake in monocytes. The uptake in monocytes revealed a complex relationship with nanoparticle size behavior dependent on the surface ligand used. This led to the selection of an optimal size and coating for monocyte labeling, 11-mercaptoundecanoic acid coated 15 nm gold nanoparticles. This formulation was further investigated for cell viability, function, and uptake with isolated primary monocytes. Moreover, primary monocytes labeled with this formulation were used to observe monocyte recruitment in atherosclerotic mice. Mice with early atherosclerotic plaques received intravenously injections of gold labeled monocytes and their recruitment to plaques were observed over 5 days with CT. Increases in CT attenuation in the plaque and transmission electron microscopy of plaque sections indicated the presence of gold labeled monocytes in the plaque. These results demonstrate the feasibility of using CT to track ex-vivo labeled cells non-invasively with CT and could further be used to investigate drugs aimed at modulating monocyte recruitment in the treatment of atherosclerosis. This work expands the applications of cell tracking and may lead to additional uses in other diseases.

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