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Molecular Imaging and Biology





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Purpose: Reporter gene imaging has been extensively used to longitudinally report on whole-body distribution and viability of transplanted engineered cells. Multi-modal cell tracking can provide complementary information on cell fate. Typical multi-modal reporter gene systems often combine clinical and preclinical modalities. A multi-modal reporter gene system for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET), two clinical modalities, would be advantageous by combining the sensitivity of PET with the high-resolution morphology and non-ionizing nature of MRI. Procedures: We developed and evaluated a dual MRI/PET reporter gene system composed of two human-derived reporter genes that utilize clinical reporter probes for engineered cell detection. As a proof-of-concept, breast cancer cells were engineered to co-express the human organic anion transporter polypeptide 1B3 (OATP1B3) that uptakes the clinical MRI contrast agent gadolinium ethoxybenzyl-diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (Gd-EOB-DTPA), and the human sodium iodide symporter (NIS) which uptakes the PET tracer, [18F] tetrafluoroborate ([18F] TFB). Results: T1-weighted MRI results in mice exhibited significantly higher MRI signals in reporter-gene-engineered mammary fat pad tumors versus contralateral naïve tumors (p < 0.05). No differences in contrast enhancement were observed at 5 h after Gd-EOB-DTPA administration using either intravenous or intraperitoneal injection. We also found significantly higher standard uptake values (SUV) in engineered tumors in comparison to the naïve tumors in [18F]TFB PET images (p < 0.001). Intratumoral heterogeneity in signal enhancement was more conspicuous in relatively higher resolution MR images compared to PET images. Conclusions: Our study demonstrates the ability to noninvasively track cells engineered with our human-derived dual MRI/PET reporter system, enabling a more comprehensive evaluation of transplanted cells. Future work is focused on applying this tool to track therapeutic cells, which may one day enable the broader application of cell tracking within the healthcare system.