, Volume 130, Issue 5, pp 845-875,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Molecular imaging with nanoparticles: giant roles for dwarf actors


Molecular imaging, first developed to localise antigens in light microscopy, now encompasses all imaging modalities including those used in clinical care: optical imaging, nuclear medical imaging, ultrasound imaging, CT, MRI, and photoacoustic imaging. Molecular imaging always requires accumulation of contrast agent in the target site, often achieved most efficiently by steering nanoparticles containing contrast agent into the target. This entails accessing target molecules hidden behind tissue barriers, necessitating the use of targeting groups. For imaging modalities with low sensitivity, nanoparticles bearing multiple contrast groups provide signal amplification. The same nanoparticles can in principle deliver both contrast medium and drug, allowing monitoring of biodistribution and therapeutic activity simultaneously (theranostics). Nanoparticles with multiple bioadhesive sites for target recognition and binding will be larger than 20 nm diameter. They share functionalities with many subcellular organelles (ribosomes, proteasomes, ion channels, and transport vesicles) and are of similar sizes. The materials used to synthesise nanoparticles include natural proteins and polymers, artificial polymers, dendrimers, fullerenes and other carbon-based structures, lipid–water micelles, viral capsids, metals, metal oxides, and ceramics. Signal generators incorporated into nanoparticles include iron oxide, gadolinium, fluorine, iodine, bismuth, radionuclides, quantum dots, and metal nanoclusters. Diagnostic imaging applications, now appearing, include sentinal node localisation and stem cell tracking.