In vivo imaging with a cell-permeable porphyrin-based
MRI contrast agent
Lee, Taekwan et al. “In Vivo Imaging with a Cell-Permeable
Porphyrin-Based MRI Contrast Agent.” Chemistry & Biology 17.6
(2010) : 665-673.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V.
Author's final manuscript
Sat Dec 31 06:16:17 EST 2011
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0
In vivo imaging with a cell-permeable porphyrin-based
MRI contrast agent
Taekwan Lee1, Xiao-an Zhang2, Shanta Dhar2, Henryk Faas1, Stephen J. Lippard†2,
& Alan Jasanoff†1,3,4
Departments of Biological Engineering,
Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and
Nuclear Science & Engineering
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
150 Albany St., NW14–2213
Cambridge, MA 02139
† address correspondence to AJ & SJL
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Abbreviations: DAPI (4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole), DG (dentate gyrus), DPA (dipi-
colylamine), FOV (field of view), Gd-DTPA (Gd-diethylenetriaminetetraacetic acid),
Gd-DOTA (Gd-tetraazacyclododecanetetraacetic acid), Mn-TPPS4 [Mn(III)-meso-
tetrakis(4-sulfonatophenyl)porphyrin], MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), ROI (region
of interest), TE (echo time), TPA [tris(2-pyridylmethyl)amine], TR (repetition time),
TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling)
• An MRI contrast agent designed for cell permeability and zinc sensitivity strongly and
persistently stains brain tissue in live rats
• Multimodal imaging and elemental analysis demonstrate that injected probe localizes
to cytosolic compartments inside cells
• A brain region with high levels of labile zinc stains more efficiently than a zinc-poor
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with molecular probes offers the potential to
monitor physiological parameters with comparatively high spatial and temporal resolu-
tion in living subjects. For detection of intracellular analytes, construction of cell-
permeable imaging agents remains a challenge. Here we show that a porphyrin-based
MRI molecular imaging agent, Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3, effectively penetrates cells and
persistently stains living brain tissue in intracranially injected rats. Chromogenicity of the
probe permitted direct visualization of its distribution by histology, in addition to MRI.
Distribution was concentrated in cell bodies after hippocampal infusion. Mn-(DPA-C2)2-
TPPS3 was designed to sense zinc ions, and contrast enhancement was more pronounced
in the hippocampus, a zinc-rich brain region, than in the caudate nucleus, which contains
relatively little labile Zn2+. Membrane permeability, optical activity, and high relaxivity
of porphyrin-based contrast agents offer exceptional functionality for in vivo imaging.
Molecular imaging of intracellular targets and processes using magnetic resonance
must rely on effective uptake of contrast agents by cells in vivo. Small molecule MRI
contrast agents are typically based on highly polar, often charged, paramagnetic metal
chelates such as Gd-diethylenetriaminetetraacetic acid (DTPA) or Gd-
tetraazacyclododecanetetraacetic acid (DOTA), which have intrinsically low transmem-
brane permeability (Caravan et al., 1999). To reduce barriers against cellular uptake of
polar contrast agents, it has been possible to conjugate them to distinct chemical moieties
that promote intracellular internalization. Most extensively explored have been so-called
cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs)?? (Derossi et al., 1994; Vives et al., 1997), short polyca-
tionic amino acid sequences that transport various molecular cargoes into cells (Fonseca
et al., 2009). Gd3+-containing small molecule MRI contrast agents conjugated to CPPs are
effectively internalized by cells in vitro (Allen and Meade, 2003; Bhorade et al., 2000;
Heckl et al., 2002; Prantner et al., 2003). Further conjugation-based cell delivery ap-
proaches have involved fusion of contrast agents to amphipathic moieties (Endres et al.,
2006; Sturzu et al., 2009) or thiol-reactive groups (Digilio et al., 2009) that are thought to
interact with plasma membrane components. Incorporation of MRI contrast agents into
liposomes or carbon nanotubes also facilitates cell delivery (Torchilin, 2007). Few of
these approaches have been shown to promote intracellular localization of paramagnetic
contrast agents in intact tissue, however.
An alternative approach to producing cell-permeable contrast agents is to construct
agents from paramagnetic platforms that intrinsically favor transport into cells. Water
soluble metalloporphyrins provide suitable building blocks for this purpose (Zhang et al.,
2007). A quintessential porphyrin-based MRI contrast agent, Mn(III)-meso-tetrakis(4-
sulfonatophenyl)porphyrin (Mn-TPPS4), has high longitudinal (T1) magnetic resonance
relaxivity (Chen et al., 1984; Koenig et al., 1987) and localizes in tumors (Fiel et al.,
1987; Lyon et al., 1987; Ogan et al., 1987). There is evidence that metalloporphyrin
(Megnin et al., 1987) or expanded porphyrin (Woodburn, 2001; Young et al., 1996)
agents penetrate cells under various circumstances, possibly because of their hydrophobic
surface area and charge delocalization over the aromatic porphyrin ring. Imaging probes
based on porphyrins could be designed to target or sense analytes using mechanisms pre-
viously applied in conjunction with DTPA or DOTA-related chelates?? (Jasanoff, 2007).
As an initial test of the metalloporphyrin platform for molecular imaging, we re-
cently synthesized Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 (Figure 1A), a Mn-TPPS4 analog containing
dipicolylamine (DPA) groups to bind labile Zn2+ ions (Zhang et al., 2007). Relatively
high, 200 µM concentrations of this probe incubated with cultured cells produced robust
contrast enhancements. T1-weighted MRI signal increases in cell culture were more pro-
nounced for Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 than for Mn-TPPS4, and were greatest for the probe in
the presence of 1 mM exogenous Zn2+ ions. An inconsistency between zinc-dependent
MRI changes exhibited by Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in cells vs. buffer suggested that the cell
culture results arose from differences in the relative uptake efficiencies of zinc-
complexed and uncomplexed forms of the molecule, rather than from zinc-dependent
effects on its relaxivity. Neither the extent of cellular uptake of the probe nor its subcellu-
lar localization were directly measured in this study, however.
Based on our in vitro results, we speculated that Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 might be
able to function, analogously to histological dyes, as an MRI-detectable stain with both
cell permeability and possible zinc dependence in intact animals. Such a function would
require that cellular uptake be able to compete kinetically with elimination of the probe
following its infusion or injection into tissue. In an organism, both post-infusion concen-
trations of the probe and the accessible concentrations of labile zinc would most likely be
far below those we applied in cell culture, so uptake and zinc binding would be less fa-
vorable. To assess the behavior of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in a true biological environ-
ment, we therefore applied the contrast agent by injection into live rodent brains, where
cell-permeable analyte-sensitive molecular imaging agents could be particularly impor-
tant for monitoring neurobiological function and disease. We here provide compelling
evidence of intracellular probe localization in vivo, as well as indications of zinc sensitiv-
ity, which suggest the general utility of the porphyrin platform for further applications.
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 produces strong, persistent contrast in injected brains
To assess the ability of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 to penetrate cells and stain living
brain tissue, 5 µL of a 1 mM solution of the probe were injected intracranially into the
dorsal hippocampus of rat subjects. Each infusion was paired with a symmetric 5 µL in-
jection of 1 mM Mn-TPPS4 into the contralateral hemisphere, and anesthetized animals
were subsequently imaged on a 9.4 T MRI scanner. The paired injection procedure was
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designed to test whether relative staining patterns observed with the two agents in vitro
would be reproduced in vivo, while at the same time controlling for trial-to-trial variabil-
ity in experimental parameters such as animal positioning and radiofrequency coil tuning.
Injected rats were examined at multiple time points following contrast agent delivery.
After two days, strong contrast was consistently observed in the hippocampus injected
with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3, whereas little signal enhancement over background was ob-
served on the side injected with Mn-TPPS4 (Figure 1B). This result demonstrates that the
relatively efficient cellular contrast induction exhibited by Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in vitro
is reproduced in living brain tissue.
Rats were scanned again at four and ten days after contrast agent injection. Contrast
differences between Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4 injection sites remained
throughout this period (Figure 1C). MRI signal was quantified in regions of interest
(ROIs) around the injection sites. Each ROI was defined by a 1.2 mm radius sphere cen-
tered around an injection site, as judged from images with isotropic 150 µm resolution.
Measured signal amplitudes were normalized with respect to control ROIs near but out-
side the injected areas. Examination of the MRI signal time courses graphed in Figure 1D
shows that the signal difference between Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4 injection
areas decayed to approximately half its initial value over the ten day observation period,
suggesting an approximately half-life of 10 days for injected Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3. A
mean maximal enhancement of 21 ± 7% (n = 7) with respect to the control volume was
observed in the Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 infusion ROI, whereas average MRI signal in the
Mn-TPPS4 region was slightly less intense with respect to the control, probably because
of signal dropout in the immediate vicinity of the injection needle insertion site. Signal
differences between Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4 ROIs were statistically sig-
nificant on all days (t-test p = 0.006-0.027).
Persistence of the MRI signal enhancement produced by Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3
over several days suggested that this probe was sequestered intracellularly or tightly
bound to immobilized components of the tissue. To better understand the contrasting dy-
namics of signal changes caused by Mn-TPPS4, the time course of image enhancement
was examined over a short time scale following Mn-TPPS4 injection in two further ani-
mals. Image series (see Figure S1) showed that T1-weighted contrast enhancement oc-
curred shortly after delivery of Mn-TPPS4, but that the signal increase dissipated almost
entirely over a period of less than two hours. Fast clearance from brain has been observed
previously with classical hydrophilic MRI contrast agents such as Gd-DTPA (Liu et al.,
2004; Wan et al., 1991), which are thought to have a predominantly extracellular tissue
Porphyrin-based probe localizes to cell bodies in the hippocampus
The spatial pattern of the contrast enhancement observed with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-
TPPS3 was examined at a microanatomical level. Comparison of MRI and Nissl-stained
histological images (Figure 2A-B) revealed strong similarities and suggested that the
most hyperintense regions resolved by MRI corresponded to RNA-rich structures, proba-
bly cell somata. Systematic differences between MRI enhancements observed in the three
hippocampal subfields, CA1, CA3, and dentate gyrus (DG), were not discernable. Further
analysis of localization patterns was aided by the optical absorbance of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-
TPPS3. In particular, 100 µm sections of injected rat brains extracted after imaging dis-
played intrinsic contrast resulting from the probe and directly reflecting its distribution in
the brain. Close-up views of a representative section (Figure 2C-D) displayed a yellow-
brown color that appeared most concentrated in laminae that were also strongly stained
by the nuclear stain 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI; Figure 2E-F). These results
imply that MRI contrast enhancement in brain regions injected with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-
TPPS3 was largely due to localization of the probe in cell bodies.
The intrinsic optical contrast due to injected probe was relatively homogeneous in
100 µm sections (Figure 2D), suggesting that Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 was broadly distrib-
uted in intracellular compartments. In addition, near the injection needle insertion points,
discrete darker colored spheroids of approximately 5 µm in diameter were observed un-
der bright-field illumination of 30 µm sections (Figure 3). Some of these spheroids corre-
sponded to structures also resolved by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated
dUTP nick end labeling (TUNEL staining, Fig. 3E-F). MRI hyperintense areas more dis-
tal from the injection sites did not exhibit TUNEL positivity. We therefore infer that the
brown TUNEL-positive puncta might be cells that had been physically disrupted by the
injection procedure and that had acquired particularly high concentrations of the contrast
agent. Based on the absence of TUNEL-positive cells and the normal appearance of Nissl
staining throughout most of the MRI contrast-enhanced brain regions, we conclude that
the probe had little deleterious effect on brain tissue in general, and is therefore unlikely
to be strongly cytotoxic. We also noted no serious changes to the behavior of injected rats
in the home cage environment, which provides further indication that contrast agent de-
livery is not significantly harmful to the animals, despite its relatively long retention time
in the brain.
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 retained in brain tissue is primarily cytosolic
The accumulation of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in injected brain tissue was examined
directly by trace element analysis. Rats received bilateral hippocampal infusions of 5 µL
contrast agent (n = 6) or phosphate buffered saline (PBS) vehicle control (n = 6), and
were scanned after two days. Immediately after MRI, these animals were sacrificed and
dissected to obtain dorsal hippocampal tissue specimens weighing an average of 28.8 ±
1.7 mg (wet weight), each containing much of the volume of distribution around an injec-
tion site. Samples were digested, dried, and evaluated by flameless atomic absorption
spectroscopy (AAS) to determine the amounts of manganese present. Excess manganese
in test samples versus PBS controls was taken to reflect the local deposition of Mn-
(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3. The mean Mn concentrations in test and control samples were 2.5 ±
0.5 and 0.44 ± 0.03 parts per million (ppm = µg/g wet tissue), respectively. The differ-
ence of 2.1 ppm is equivalent to approximately 40 µM contrast agent, assuming brain
density of 1 g/mL, a dilution of the infusate by a factor of 25 that presumably reflects
convective dynamics during the injection, diffusion and wash-out during the two day
post-infusion period, and aspects of sample preparation. Manganese concentrations from
AAS correlated closely (R = 0.87, p < 0.0001) with MRI intensities measured from 1.2
mm-radius spherical ROIs around the infusion sites (Figure 4A). The regression coeffi-
cient of 10.7% MRI signal change per ppm Mn was combined with a reference T1 meas-
urement from rat hippocampus?? (de Graaf et al., 2006) to estimate an “in vivo relaxivity”
of about 3 mM-1s-1 for injected Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3. This approximate value is some-
what lower, but of the same order of magnitude, as the reported relaxivity range of 6.7-
8.7 mM-1s-1 of the contrast agent in buffer at 4.7 T (Zhang et al., 2007). These results pro-
vide absolute evidence of probe accumulation in injected tissue and validate AAS as a
basis for semi-quantitative estimates of the Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 concentrations that
gave rise to observed MRI contrast enhancements.
The AAS analysis was extended to provide information about the subcellular distri-
bution of injected Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3. Brain samples from an additional set of animals
injected with either Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 or PBS were combined (n = 4 per condition),
homogenized, and fractionated to determine the manganese content in cytosolic, nuclear,
and mixed membranous compartments of the tissue (Cox and Emili, 2006). Figure 4B
shows the manganese concentrations measured by AAS in each of the three fractions.
Total Mn concentrations summed across the three intracellular fractions were lower than
the average values measured from unfractionated samples, a disparity which we presume
to largely reflect differences in sample preparation techniques. The fact that similar, ap-
proximately twofold, discrepancies were found in both test and control samples argues
against the possibility that a particularly large amount of extracellular contrast agent was
present in the samples injected with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3. Data from the fractionated
samples indicate that the cytosol contained 69% of the manganese found near Mn-(DPA-
C2)2-TPPS3 injection sites, and 66% of the excess manganese observed with respect to
control injections. Nuclear and membranous fractions contained 14% and 21% of the
excess Mn, respectively. The AAS data therefore demonstrate conclusively that the in-
jected probe entered cells, and suggest that the contrast patterns observed by MRI arose
largely from cytosolically-localized Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3.
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Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 stains a zinc-rich brain area with greater efficiency
In addition to exploiting cell permeability of the porphyrin platform, Mn-(DPA-
C2)2-TPPS3 was designed to respond to labile zinc ions; the probe exhibits zinc-dependent
MRI contrast enhancement in cells in vitro (Zhang et al., 2007). To begin examining zinc
sensitivity of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in vivo, we compared contrast due to probe injection
into two brain structures known to contain differing levels of labile zinc. Areas of the
hippocampus are consistently identified as some of the most Zn2+-rich neural structures in
mammals (Nakashima and Dyck, 2009). Reservoirs of vesicular Zn2+ have been associ-
ated with glutamatergic synaptic transmission and may play a role in hippocampal long
term potentiation (Frederickson et al., 2005). Although technical limitations of the injec-
tion procedure prevented us from performing a meaningful analysis of relative Mn-
(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 staining in hippocampal sub-regions, we examined whether MRI-
visualized Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 staining in the hippocampus was more pronounced than
staining in the caudate-putamen, a region of the basal ganglia shown by histochemical
analyses to contain substantially less labile Zn2+ (Frederickson et al., 1987; Frederickson
et al., 1992).
As in the hippocampus, Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 produced clear contrast enhancement
in the caudate, whereas Mn-TPPS4 did not (Figure 5A). Contrast observed in the caudate
was relatively featureless by comparison to enhancements observed in the hippocampus
however, possibly reflecting the absence of cytoarchitectonic laminae in this structure. In
addition, markedly greater MRI signal was observed following Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3
injection into the hippocampus than into the caudate-putamen area (Figure 5B). Across
six animals injected in both sites, probe injections resulted on average in a 19.5 ± 8.5%
signal increase with respect to uninjected control ROIs in the hippocampus, but only a 4.2
± 2.0% increase in the caudate. In both brain regions, differences between the signal
changes produced by Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4 injection were statistically
significant (t-test p = 0.02-0.04), but the mean difference observed in the hippocampus
(24 ± 10%) was over threefold higher than in the caudate (7.1 ± 4.1%). The previously
reported weak zinc dependence of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 relaxivity in solution (Zhang et
al., 2007) could not explain the results and would have predicted a lower MRI intensity in
the hippocampus with respect to the caudate. The measurements instead support the con-
clusion that accumulation of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 was more pronounced in the hippo-
campus than in the caudate nucleus, consistent with the hypothesis that this probe accu-
mulates more efficiently in brain areas that contain greater amounts of labile Zn2+.
To examine further the relationship between in vivo staining and Zn2+ availability,
we combined hippocampal injection of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 with pretreatment using the
high-affinity zinc chelator tris(2-pyridylmethyl)amine (TPA; XZ and SJL, unpublished
results). A 4 µL dose of 1 mM TPA or vehicle was delivered to sites in opposite hemi-
spheres, followed by 4 µL of 1 mM probe. The relative MRI signal averaged across hip-
pocampal ROIs in all animals was 124 ± 8% without TPA and 109 ± 12% with TPA.
Although the difference is not statistically significant (t-test p = 0.3, n = 5), the lower
image intensity observed in the presence of TPA is compatible with the explanation that
TPA-mediated Zn2+ chelation reduced uptake of the probe, within the limits of experi-
mental variability across the tested animals.
Advantages of metalloporphyrin-based agents for in vivo molecular imaging
Results presented here highlight the advantages of metalloporphyrin-based MRI
contrast agents for molecular imaging in vivo. The first is cell permeability, a property for
which earlier in vitro experiments with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 provided only circumstan-
tial evidence (Zhang et al., 2007). In rat brains, the contrast agent proved to stain cells
persistently and with significantly greater efficiency than its more polar parent molecule,
Mn-TPPS4. The observed pattern of contrast enhancement with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3
suggests that the probe most effectively stains neuronal cell bodies, as opposed to plexi-
form layers. Correspondence between MRI intensity enhancement and the intrinsic con-
trast of the probe in brain sections indicates that preferential staining of gray matter was
due directly to accumulation of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3, rather than to differences in ap-
parent relaxivity of the probe in white and gray matter. The bias for gray matter is also
consistent with AAS results showing robust accumulation of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in
cytosol. The data presented here demonstrate that Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 entered cells in
intact brain tissue, rather than merely partitioning into membranes or other hydrophobic
environments. This behavior indicates that the metalloporphyrin platform should be well
suited to the construction of cell-permeable molecular imaging agents for MRI.
A second advantage of the metalloporphyrin platform for molecular imaging is the
potential for multimodal measurements with porphyrin-based probes. In the study that
presented synthesis of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3, we noted that the apoporphyrin form of this
agent exhibits zinc-dependent fluorescence (Zhang et al., 2007). Here we used the optical
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absorbance of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 itself to determine the distribution of the probe in
post-mortem brain slices. Given the possibility, sometimes by design, that environmental
factors can influence MRI signal enhancement by a contrast agent, the ability to map
porphyrin-based probe distribution by this optical method is an extremely important as-
set. In addition to facilitating quantitative interpretation of molecular imaging results, the
optical assay can help localize probes on length scales below the resolution of MRI.
Combined MRI and histological analysis is of obvious value for experiments in labora-
tory animals, and a similar approach could also be useful for studies relating MRI con-
trast enhancement to biopsy samples in a clinical diagnostic context.
Zinc sensing via accumulation of an MRI contrast agent
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 displayed evidence of zinc sensitivity in injected rat brains.
Contrast enhancement was substantially more pronounced in the labile zinc-rich hippo-
campus than in the caudate nucleus, which contains much less vesicular Zn2+. If labile
zinc were the only factor that determined localization patterns of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3
in the brain, the MRI results presented here would have matched previously reported
fluorescent and histochemical maps of zinc distribution (Frederickson, 2003;
Frederickson et al., 2000). Results from these ex vivo techniques have shown relatively
light staining in the caudate-putamen (Frederickson et al., 1987; Frederickson et al.,
1992), but intense and specific layer- and subfield-dependent staining patterns in the hip-
pocampus, especially emphasizing the mossy fiber pathway from DG to CA3
(Slomianka, 1992). Such precise results were not obtained by MRI, possibly in part be-
cause of the tendency of the probe to accumulate in cells even in the absence of zinc
(Zhang et al., 2007), perhaps compounded by disruptions following from the injection
procedure itself. There was no evidence for extensive cell disruption or death, ,however,
so cytotoxicity is unlikely to have been a major factor in the results. Zinc detection with
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 or related compounds could be improved in the future by modify-
ing the probe further to disfavor zinc-independent staining, and by using experimental
paradigms that involve less invasive, more homogeneous probe delivery methods.
Zinc-dependent contributions to the tissue accumulation of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3
may have arisen in part because of charge-related effects. Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 is ani-
onic (-2) in the absence of analyte, but neutral or cationic (+2) when bound to one or two
Zn2+ ions, respectively. Neutral or positively charged species are thought to be more read-
ily imported by cells. Mn-TPPS4 is even more negatively charged (-3) than Mn-(DPA-
C2)2-TPPS3, which may account for its relatively fast elimination from injected brain tis-
sue. The idea of generating contrast based on analyte-dependent transport of a molecular
imaging agent has parallels to a variety of MRI-based tracer techniques?? (Lin and
Koretsky, 1997; Mansson et al., 2006; Querol and Bogdanov, 2006), but represents a
sharp departure from ion-sensitive MRI contrast mechanisms based on T1 or T2 relaxivity
changes (Atanasijevic et al., 2006; Atanasijevic et al., 2010; Esqueda et al., 2009; Li et
al., 1999; Que and Chang, 2009). Molecular transport in vivo is inherently complex, as
well as irreversible on a short time scale, but analyte sensing based on transport of an
agent might nevertheless have advantages over detection based on relaxivity changes. In
particular, transport-based probes could achieve greater MRI signal changes, both be-
cause of the possibility that their accumulation might be facilitated by relatively small
amounts of analyte (in analogy to ionophores and transmembrane carrier proteins, for
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Deleted: disruption was not found
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instance), and because relatively high contrast could be developed during extended probe
infusion protocols. Owing to their cell permeability and ability to induce robust contrast
changes in living tissue, paramagnetic metalloporphyrins may prove to be effective plat-
forms on which to improve and diversify probe localization-based approaches to measur-
ing biological targets in vivo.
Results presented here demonstrate that a paramagnetic metalloporphyrin
MRI molecular imaging agent penetrates cells in tissue and permits analysis of neu-
ral structures in living mammalian brains, without apparent toxic side effects. Im-
aging agents based on intrinsically membrane-permeable platforms like porphryins
constitute an effective alternative to probes formed by conjugating contrast agents
to specific cell delivery vehicles. Optical absorbance of the probe employed here,
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3, allowed MRI contrast results to be validated by conventional
post-mortem histology, illustrating a further advantage of porphyrin-based agents.
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 binds Zn2+ ions with high affinity (Zhang et al., 2007), and
preliminary evidence of zinc-dependent uptake of the probe was provided by com-
parison of staining results obtained in brain regions containing different labile zinc
concentrations. MRI-based molecular imaging with probes that accumulate in ana-
lyte-dependent fashion in vivo represents a novel and potentially generalizable ap-
proach distinct from strategies for sensing analytes via relaxivity changes.
MRI contrast agents
Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 was prepared and purified as previously described?? (Zhang et
al., 2007). Mn-TPPS4 was purchased from Frontier Scientific (Logan, UT). Both Mn-
(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4 were dissolved into phosphate buffered saline (PBS) to
constitute 1 mM solutions for infusion experiments.
Male Lewis rats (250-300 g) were purchased from Charles River Laboratories
(Wilmington, MA). After arrival, animals were housed and maintained on a 12 hour
light/dark cycle and permitted ad libitum access to food and water. All procedures were
performed in strict compliance with the Committee on Animal Care (CAC) guidelines of
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Contrast agent infusion
Animals were anesthetized with isoflurane (4% induction, 1-2% maintenance),
shaved, and mounted in a rodent stereotaxic device (David Kopf Instruments, Tujunga
CA) prior to surgery. Heart rate and blood oxygenation were continuously monitored
using a pulse oximeter (Nonin Medical, Plymouth, MN) during subsequent procedures.
The scalp was retracted and small holes were drilled into the skull above desired injection
sites. 28G needles (Plastics One, Roanoke, VA) were lowered to the appropriate depth
through the holes. Infusion coordinates were defined with reference to a standard atlas??
(Paxinos and Watson, 1998), as follows: 3 mm posterior, 2 mm lateral, and 3.4 mm ven-
tral to bregma for the hippocampus, and 0.5 mm posterior, 3 mm lateral, and 5 mm ven-
tral to bregma for the caudate nucleus. At each injection site, 5 µL of either Mn-(DPA-
C2)2-TPPS3 or Mn-TPPS4 was infused using an injection pump (Cole-Parmer, Vernon
Hills, IL) operating with an infusion rate of 18 µL/h. For several experiments, an injec-
tion of 4 µL 1 mM TPA (ATRP Solutions, Pittsburgh, PA) preceded infusion of 4 µL
contrast agent. TPA was dissolved to 100 mM in dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and diluted
to 1 mM in PBS; vehicle controls were 1% DMSO in PBS. After each infusion, the injec-
tion needle was held in place for five minutes to prevent reflux before withdrawing. The
scalp was sutured and in some cases animals were scanned while still under surgical an-
esthesia. Further imaging experiments were conducted after recovery of the animals. Ex-
periments in which conditions were paired (Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 vs. Mn-TPPS4 or
+TPA vs. -TPA), brain hemispheres exposed to each given condition were alternated.
Magnetic resonance imaging
MRI scans were obtained up to ten days post-injection. Animals were anesthetized
with 1-2% isoflurane and mounted into a positioning device under a four-channel phased
array radiofrequency coil (Bruker Biospin, Billerica, MA). The animal holder was in-
serted into a 20 cm bore 9.4 T magnet operated from a Bruker Biospec console, and ani-
mals were monitored with a respirometer (Bruker Biospin). Data were acquired with a T1-
weighted gradient echo pulse sequence and an acceleration factor of two, with 48 refer-
ence lines for multichannel data reconstruction. Images with 150 µm cubic voxel size
were obtained with a repetition time (TR) of 50 ms, echo time (TE) of 6 ms, field of view
(FOV) of 30 x 30 x 22.5 mm, and data matrix of 200 x 200 x 150 points (no averaging,
scan time = 15.5 min); images with 75 x 75 x 300 µm voxel size were obtained with TR =
50 ms, TE = 6 ms, FOV = 30 x 30 x 150 mm, and data matrix of 400 x 400 x 50 points
(4-fold averaging, scan time = 37.3 min).
Images were reconstructed in Paravision 4 (Bruker Biospin) and transformed to
AFNI data format; data conversion and further image processing were performed using
AFNI?? (Cox, 1996). Brains were segmented away from non-brain matter and ROIs were
defined as spheres of 1.2 mm radius around injection sites identified in the images. Mean
signal intensity in each ROI was computed by averaging over voxels. Signal in each ROI
was normalized by the mean signal recorded in an uninjected control region with the
same dorsoventral and rostrocaudal coordinates as the injection site. Control regions had
equivalent size to the injected ROIs and were located in primary or secondary somatosen-
sory cortex, paired with hippocampal or caudate injection sites, respectively. Local nor-
malization by signal in the control regions served to eliminate systematic effects of image
inhomogeneity on the measured signal intensities. Statistical analyses and further data
display were performed using Excel (Microsoft, Redmond, WA) and Kaleidagraph (Syn-
ergy Software, Reading, PA). Unless otherwise noted, error margins reported in the text
reflect standard errors of the mean (s.e.m.) over multiple measurements.
After the final scanning sessions, rats were sacrificed by isoflurane overdose and
perfused with PBS, followed by 4% buffered formaldehyde solution. Brains were re-
moved and stored in 4% formaldehyde for several days. Thin brain slices (40 µm for
Nissl staining and 30 µm for TUNEL staining) were cut with a Leica VT1200 microtome
(Leica Microsystems, Wetzlar, Germany). For Nissl staining, brain slices were mounted
on gelatin coated slides (SouthernBiotech Associates, Birmingham, AL) and stained with
cresyl violet following a common procedure (Paxinos and Watson, 1998). For TUNEL
staining, brain slices were rinsed twice with PBS and dried on the gelatin coated slides.
Mounted slices were processed with 50 µL TUNEL reaction solution supplied as part of
the Roche Applied Science (Mannheim, Germany) In Situ Death Detection Kit, TMR
red. After one hour of incubation at 37℃, brain slices were rinsed three times with PBS
and treated with mounting medium including DAPI (Vector Laboratories, Burlingame,
CA). Photomicrographs from these slides were acquired using an Olympus BX50WI
epifluorescence microscope (Olympus America, Center Valley, PA) equipped with a Spot
RT741 digital camera (Diagnostic Instruments, Sterling Heights, MI).
Trace element analysis
For analysis of manganese content in injected rat hippocampus, 12 animals were
infused bilaterally with 5 µL of 1 mM Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 or PBS vehicle control solu-
tions and scanned after two days with 150 µm isotropic resolution, using methods de-
scribed above. Immediately after MRI, these rats were sacrificed and decapitated. Brains
were quickly removed and dorsal hippocampal segments were dissected. Brain samples
were immediately placed on dry ice and stored in a -80 ℃ freezer. Twenty-four samples
weighing 16-47 mg and containing the injection volumes were analyzed to determine
total manganese content. Tissue samples were processed according to a published proto-
col?? (Pera and Harder, 1977), beginning with digestion in nitric acid at 40 °C, followed by
evaporation to near dryness. Dried, digested samples were resuspended in 1 N HCl (2
mL) and again heated to near dryness; this procedure was repeated twice. Dried samples
were finally dissolved in 1 mL 0.1 N HCl for manganese analysis by flameless atomic
absorption spectrophotometry (AAS). Measurements were performed on an AAnalyst
600 instrument from Perkin-Elmer (Waltham, MA). Calibration was performed using
manganese aqueous standards prepared in 5% nitric acid from a commercial standard
solution (Perkin-Elmer Pure AS Standard). The calibration curve for Mn was linear over
the range from 1-200 µg/L, and the mean Mn concentration determined from vehicle con-
trol samples (0.44 ± 0.09 ppm) was comparable to a published precedent?? (Cosan et al.,
Eight additional hippocampal samples weighing 19-36 mg were analyzed to deter-
mine the distribution of manganese among cytosolic, nuclear, and mixed membranous
fractions. Brain specimens were fractionated following a published procedure (Cox and
Emili, 2006). Briefly, tissue samples were weighed and washed with ice-cold 250-
STMDPS buffer [50 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.4, 250 mM sucrose, 5 mM MgCl2, 1 mM dithio-
threitol (DTT), 1 mM phenylmethanesulfonyl fluoride (PMSF), 25 µg/mL spermine, and
25 µg/mL spermidine] and then submerged in 250-STMDPS buffer. After 15 strokes in a
Dounce homogenizer, the extract was centrifuged at 800g for 15 min and the pellet was
used to prepare the nuclear fraction. The 800g supernatant was centrifuged again at
100,000g in a swinging-bucket ultracentrifuge for 1 h. The supernatant from this separa-
tion constituted the cytosolic fraction; the remaining sedimented material was further
processed to isolate membrane-containing components. The pellet was resuspended in 0.5
mL of membrane extraction buffer (20 mM Tris-HCl, pH 7.8, 0.4 M NaCl, 15% glycerol,
1 mM DTT, 1 mM PMSF and 1.5% Triton-X-100) and incubated for 1 h with gentle
rocking, followed by centrifugation for 30 min at 9,000g. The membranous fraction
(plasma membrane, Golgi bodies, vesicles, endoplasmic reticulum) was considered to be
the supernatant from this separation. The pellet was homogenized with a single stroke in
a Dounce homogenizer in 2M-TMDPS buffer (50 mM Tris–HCl, pH 7.4, 2 M sucrose, 5
mM MgCl2, 1 mM DTT, 1mM PMSF, 25 µg/mL spermine, and 25 µg/mL spermidine)
and further fractionated at 8,000g for 35 min. The pellet from this final centrifugation
was resuspended in nuclear extraction buffer (20 mM HEPES, pH 7.9, 1.5 mM MgCl2,
0.5 M NaCl, 0.2 mM EDTA and 20%, glycerol) and used as the nuclear fraction. Manga-
nese concentrations in all fractions were determined by AAS, as described above.
In vivo relaxivity estimation
Relaxivity of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in injected rat brain was estimated using the
approximation that r1 ≈ (ΔI/I)(Δc)-1(T1)-1, which is valid under strong T1-weighting condi-
tions like those applied here (TR = 50 ms), where r1 is the longitudinal relaxivity, ΔI/I is
the fractional MRI signal change for a given difference in probe concentration Δc, and T1
is the initial longitudinal relaxation time. (ΔI/I)(Δc)-1 was given by the slope of a linear fit
to the plot of AAS measurements vs. MRI signal enhancements (Figure 4A): 10.7% MRI
signal change per ppm Mn, equivalent to 5.88 fractional MRI change per mM. A T1 value
of 2.06 s for rat hippocampus at 9.4 T was obtained from the literature (de Graaf et al.,
This work was funded by NIH grant DP2-OD2441 (New Innovator Award) and
Department of Defense grant DAMD17-03-1-0413 to AJ, and by NIH grant R01-
GM65519 to SJL. Additional support was provided by a grant from the McGovern Insti-
tute Neurotechnology Program to AJ and SJL.
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Figure 1. MRI contrast enhanced by injection of porphyrin agents into rat hippo-
campus. (A) Structures of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4. (B) Contrast enhance-
ment in a representative animal, two days after injection with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 into
the left hippocampus and Mn-TPPS4 into the opposite hemisphere. T1-weighted MRI data
were acquired with 75 x 75 x 300 µm voxels and TE/TR = 6/50 ms. (C) Images from the
animal in panel (B) obtained four and ten days after injection, showing slowly fading
image enhancement near the Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 infusion site. (D) A graph of relative
MRI signal as a function of time in 1.2 mm-radius spherical regions of interest (ROIs)
around the Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4 injection locations. To compute relative
MRI signal, the image intensity in each hippocampal ROI was normalized by the signal
in uninjected control volumes positioned lateral to the infusion sites. Error bars denote
standard errors of the mean (s.e.m.) over 7 rats. See also Figure S1.
Figure 2. Microanatomical localization of hippocampal MRI contrast after Mn-
(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 infusion. (A) Close up of MRI contrast enhancement in injected hip-
pocampus, with Nissl-stained section (B) for comparison. The most hyperintense areas in
panel A correlate with dense Nissl-stained cell body layers in panel B. Hippocampal sub-
fields, CA1, CA3, and dentate gyrus (DG), are labeled in B for reference. (C) Intrinsic
staining visualized by transmitted light through a 100 µm section obtained from the sub-
ject imaged for panels A and B. The field of view centers on the DG and corresponds to
the blue rectangle in A. Scale bar = 100 µm. (D) Close up of the area delineated by the
dashed rectangle in C, showing homogeneous yellow-brown staining in laminae of DG.
Scale bar = 50 µm. (E-F) Visualization of nuclei via DAPI fluorescence in the same sec-
tion shown in panels C-D (equivalent fields of view).
Figure 3. Foci of contrast agent accumulation and TUNEL positivity near an injec-
tion site. (A) MRI scan showing contrast enhancement around the injection site in an-
other rat infused with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in the left hippocampus. (B) Nissl stained
section corresponding to panel A, showing mechanical damage due to the needle inser-
tion (arrowhead). (C) Intrinsic staining in a bright field view of a 30 µm section corre-
sponding to panels A-B, showing discrete puncta of coloration due to accumulation of the
contrast agent in the immediate proximity of the injection needle insertion site (arrow-
head). Scale bar = 100 µm. (D) Close up of the view in panel C, corresponding to the
dotted rectangle. Scale bar = 50 µm. (E) TUNEL staining to visualize dead cells in the
slice shown in panel C. TUNEL positivity is observed only near the needle insertion site
(arrowhead), but not in the rest of the section, despite broad MRI contrast enhancement
observed throughout the depicted region (cf. panel A). (F) Close up of panel E, showing
close correspondence of TUNEL-positive foci to colored puncta shown in panel D.
Figure 4. Quantification of manganese content in injected brain specimens. (A) Cor-
respondence of manganese concentrations determined by atomic absorption spectroscopy
(AAS) with relative image signal determined by MRI for hippocampal specimens in-
jected with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 (gray symbols, n = 12) or PBS vehicle control (white
symbols, n = 12). [Mn] values are expressed in parts per million (ppm = µg/g wet tissue),
and relative MRI signal was determined as described in the caption to Figure 1. A linear
fit to the data gave rise to the dashed line, which has a slope of 10.7% signal change per
ppm Mn. The regression was highly significant with R = 0.87 and p < 0.0001. (B) Hippo-
campal specimens injected with either Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 or PBS (each n = 4) were
combined, homogenized, and fractionated to determine the concentration of manganese
in cytosolic, nuclear, and mixed membranous compartments of the tissue. [Mn] values for
each fraction were determined by AAS for test (gray) and control (white) samples, and
show primarily cytosolic localization of the contrast agent. Error bars denote standard
deviations of three measurements from each sample.
Figure 5. Differential staining with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in hippocampus and cau-
date-putamen. (A) MRI contrast visualized two days after injection of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-
TPPS3 and Mn-TPPS4, respectively, into the left and right caudate-putamen of a represen-
tative rat. The image was obtained with 150 µm cubic voxels and TE/TR = 6/50 ms. (B)
As a preliminary test of zinc-dependent uptake of Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 in injected
brains, relative MRI signal was quantified in hippocampal (HP) and caudate (CP) regions
of interest, near injection sites for Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 (gray) and Mn-TPPS4 (white).
Both brain regions show significantly greater staining with Mn-(DPA-C2)2-TPPS3 than
with the control compound, but the difference is roughly three times greater on average in
the zinc-rich hippocampus than in the caudate, which contains substantially less labile
zinc. Error bars denote s.e.m for n = 6.
SUPPLEMENTAL DATA INVENTORY
The supplemental data include one figure, Figure S1, which describes the time course of
contrast induce by Mn-TPPS4 in the brain following injection. This figure is referenced in
paragraph 3 of the Results section, and is most closely related to Figure 1.
Figure S1. Time course of contrast observed after injection of Mn-TPPS4 into rat
hippocampus, related to Figure 1. T1-weighted images (150 µm cubic voxels, 6/50 ms
TE/TR) were obtained at multiple time points after injection of 5 µL 1 mM Mn-TPPS4
into the left hippocampus of an individual subject. Right hippocampus received a PBS
control injection. 15.5 minute scans were initiated following post-injection delays indi-
cated in the bottom righthand corner of each frame. Staining of hippocampus and corpus
callosum is visible, but largely fades within two hours.
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