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Highly Sensitive Diagnosis of Small Hepatocellular Carcinoma Using pH-Responsive Iron Oxide Nanocluster Assemblies

Lu, Jingxiong, Sun, Jihong, Li, Fangyuan, Wang, Jin, Liu, Jianan, Kim, Dokyoon, Fan, Chunhai, Hyeon, Taeghwan, Ling, Daishun
Journal of the American Chemical Society 2018 v.140 no.32 pp. 10071-10074
hepatoma, image analysis, iron oxides, liver, magnetic resonance imaging, models, nanoparticles, pH, tissues
Iron oxide nanoparticle (IONP)-based magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents have been widely used for the diagnosis of hepatic lesions. However, current IONP-based liver-specific MRI contrast agents rely on single-phase contrast enhancement of the normal liver, which is not sensitive enough to detect early stage small hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). We herein report i-motif DNA-assisted pH-responsive iron oxide nanocluster assemblies (termed RIAs), which provide an inverse contrast enhancemt effect to improve the distinction between normal liver and target HCC tissues. The acidic pH of the tumor microenvironment triggers the disassembly of the RIAs, which leads to a drastic decrease in their relaxivity ratio (r₂/r₁), thus converting the RIAs from a T2 to T1 contrast agent. This inverse contrast enhancement of normal liver darkening and HCC brightening under T1 imaging mode was validated on an orthotopic HCC model. Our design provides a novel strategy for the exploitation of the next-generation intelligent MRI contrast agents.