Date of Award

Winter 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Tsourkas


Magnetic resonance (MR) is a robust platform for non-invasive, high-resolution anatomical imaging. However, MR imaging lacks the requisite sensitivity and contrast for imaging at the cellular level. This represents a clinical impediment to greater diagnostic accuracy. Recent advances have allowed for the in vivo visualization of populations and even of individual cells using superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) MR contrast agents. These nanoparticles, commonly manifested as a core of a single iron oxide crystal or cluster of crystals coated in a biocompatible shell, function to shorten proton relaxation times. In MR imaging these constructs locally dephase protons, resulting in a decrease in signal (hypointensity) localized to the region of accumulation of SPIO. In the context of immune cell imaging, SPIO can provide insight into the cellular migration patterns, trafficking, temporal dynamics and progression of diseases and their related pathological states. Furthermore, by visualizing the presence and activity of immune cells, SPIO-enabled cellular imaging can help evaluate the efficacy of therapy in immune disorders.

This thesis examines the production, modification and application of SPIO in a range of in vitro and in vivo immune-response-relevant cellular systems. The role of different nanoparticle characteristics including diameter, surface charge and concentration are investigated in the labeling of T cells in culture. Following optimization of SPIO loading conditions for lymphocytes, the effect these particles have on the activation of primary B cells are elucidated. B cells are tracked using a variety of modalities, with and without the application of B cell depleting therapy. This is to evaluate the efficacy of SPIO as in vivo marker for B cell distribution.

Unmodified SPIO were applied to monitor macrophage infiltration in a transient nerve root compression model, with implications for neck pain diagnosis and treatment. Nanoparticle accumulation and MR hypointensity was correlated to the presence of activated macrophage at the site of injury. Taken together, the application of SPIO to study nanoparticle uptake in vitro and visualization of immune cells in vivo provide a basis for advanced study and diagnosis of diverse pathologies.

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