Size, charge and concentration dependent uptake of iron oxide particles by non-phagocytic cells

Daniel L.J. Thorek, Andrew Tsourkas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

278 Scopus citations


A promising new direction for contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance (MR) imaging involves tracking the migration and biodistribution of superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO)-labeled cells in vivo. Despite the large number of cell labeling studies that have been performed with SPIO particles of differing size and surface charge, it remains unclear which SPIO configuration provides optimal contrast in non-phagocytic cells. This is largely because contradictory findings have stemmed from the variability and imprecise control over surface charge, the general need and complexity of transfection and/or targeting agents, and the limited number of particle configurations examined in any given study. In the present study, we systematically evaluated the cellular uptake of SPIO in non-phagocytic T cells over a continuum of particle sizes ranging from 33 nm to nearly 1.5 μm, with precisely controlled surface properties, and without the need for transfection agents. SPIO labeling of T cells was analyzed by flow cytometry and contrast enhancement was determined by relaxometry. SPIO uptake was dose-dependent and exhibited sigmoidal charge dependence, which was shown to saturate at different levels of functionalization. Efficient labeling of cells was observed for particles up to 300 nm, however, micron-sized particle uptake was limited. Our results show that an unconventional highly cationic particle configuration at 107 nm maximized MR contrast of T cells, outperforming the widely utilized USPIO (<50 nm).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3583-3590
Number of pages8
Issue number26
StatePublished - Sep 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • MRI
  • Micron-sized paramagnetic iron oxide
  • Molecular imaging
  • Nanoparticles
  • Standard superparamagnetic iron oxide
  • Ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Biophysics
  • Biomaterials
  • Mechanics of Materials


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