Imaging neuroinflammation after stroke: Current status of cellular and molecular MRI strategies

Lisette H. Deddens, Geralda A.F. Van Tilborg, Willem J.M. Mulder, Helga E. De Vries, Rick M. Dijkhuizen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Cellular and molecular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) strategies for studying the spatiotemporal profile of neuroinflammatory processes after stroke are increasingly being explored since the first reports appeared about a decade ago. These strategies most often employ (super)paramagnetic contrast agents, such as (ultra)small particles of iron oxide and gadolinium chelates, for MRI-based detection of specific leukocyte populations or molecular inflammatory markers that are involved in the pathophysiology of stroke or plasticity. In this review we describe achievements, limitations and prospects in the field of cellular and molecular MRI of neuroinflammation in preclinical and clinical stroke. Several studies in rodent stroke models have demonstrated the application of MRI contrast agents for imaging of monocyte infiltration, which served as the foundation for pilot (small-scale proof-of-concept) cellular MRI studies in stroke patients. This may be achieved with isolated cells that are loaded with contrast agent through in vitro incubation prior to systemic administration. Alternatively, superparamagnetic iron oxide particles may be directly injected into the circulation to allow in vivo uptake by phagocytic cells. Both strategies have been successfully employed to measure the spatiotemporal profile of invasion of monocytes in and around cerebral ischemic lesions in experimental stroke models. Molecular MRI studies with target-specific contrast agents have shown the capability for in vivo detection of molecular markers after experimental stroke. For example, (super)paramagnetic micro-or nanoparticles that are functionalized with a ligand (e.g. an antibody) for specific cell adhesion molecules, such as E-selectin and vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1), can target inflamed, activated endothelium, whose presence can subsequently be detected with MRI. Present applications remain limited as most of the currently available contrast agents provide relatively poor contrast enhancement, which is not easily discriminated from endogenous sources of tissue contrast. Nevertheless, current developments of more efficient particles, such as biocompatible liposomes, micelles and nanoemulsions that can contain high payloads of (super)paramagnetic material as well as other substances, such as dyes and drugs, may open a window of opportunities for promising translational multimodal imaging strategies that enable in vivo assessment of (neuroinflammatory) disease markers, therapeutic targets as well as drug delivery after stroke.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)392-402
Number of pages11
JournalCerebrovascular Diseases
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • Cellular imaging
  • Contrast agent
  • Inflammation
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Molecular imaging
  • Stroke


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