Development of a Nanoscale Chemical Exchange Saturation Transfer Magnetic Resonance Imaging Contrast Agent That Measures pH

Chathuri J. Kombala, Aikaterini Kotrotsou, F. William Schuler, Jorge De La Cerda, Jacqueline C. Ma, Shu Zhang, Mark D. Pagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


AcidoCEST MRI can measure the extracellular pH (pHe) of the tumor microenvironment in mouse models of human cancers and in patients who have cancer. However, chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) is an insensitive magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast mechanism, requiring a high concentration of small-molecule agent to be delivered to the tumor. Herein, we developed a nanoscale CEST agent that can measure pH using acidoCEST MRI, which may decrease the requirement for high delivery concentrations of agent. We also developed a monomer agent for comparison to the polymer. After optimizing CEST experimental conditions, we determined that the polymer agent could be used during acidoCEST MRI studies at 125-fold and 488-fold lower concentration than the monomer agent and iopamidol, respectively. We also determined that both agents can measure pH with negligible dependence on temperature. However, pH measurements with both agents were dependent on concentration, which may be due to concentration-dependent changes in hydrogen bonding and/or steric hindrance. We performed in vivo acidoCEST MRI studies using the three agents to study a xenograft MDA-MB-231 model of mammary carcinoma. The tumor pHe measurements were 6.33 ± 0.12, 6.70 ± 0.15, and 6.85 ± 0.15 units with iopamidol, the monomer agent, and polymer agent, respectively. The higher pHe measurements with the monomer and polymer agents were attributed to the concentration dependence of these agents. This study demonstrated that nanoscale agents have merit for CEST MRI studies, but consideration should be given to the dependence of CEST contrast on the concentration of these agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20678-20688
Number of pages11
JournalACS Nano
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 28 2021


  • chemical exchange saturation transfer
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • pH imaging
  • polymer contrast agent
  • tumor acidosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Materials Science(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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