Stem cell therapies are currently being investigated for the repair of brain injuries. Although exogenous stem cell labelling with superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) prior to transplantation provides a means to noninvasively monitor stem cell transplantation by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), monitoring cell death is still a challenge. Here, we investigate the feasibility of using an MRI dual-contrast technique to detect cell delivery, cell migration and cell death after stem cell transplantation. Human mesenchymal stem cells were dual labelled with SPIONs and gadolinium-based chelates (GdDTPA). The viability, proliferation rate, and differentiation potential of the labelled cells were then evaluated. The feasibility of this MRI technique to distinguish between live and dead cells was next evaluated using MRI phantoms, and in vivo using both immune-competent and immune-deficient mice, following the induction of brain injury in the mice. All results were validated with bioluminescence imaging. In live cells, a negative (T 2 /T 2 ∗) MRI contrast predominates, and is used to track cell delivery and cell migration. Upon cell death, a diffused positive (T 1) MRI contrast is generated in the vicinity of the dead cells, and serves as an imaging marker for cell death. Ultimately, this technique could be used to manage stem cell therapies.
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