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Pharmacokinetic Issues of Imaging with Nanoparticles: Focusing on Carbon Nanotubes and Quantum Dots


With many desirable properties, nanoparticles hold tremendous potential for in vivo molecular imaging and improving the efficacy of small-molecule drugs. The pharmacokinetics (PK) and tissue distribution of nanoparticles largely define their in vivo performance and potential toxicity, which are fundamental issues that need to be elucidated. In this review article, we summarized how molecular imaging techniques (e.g., positron emission tomography, fluorescence imaging, etc.) can facilitate the investigation of PK profiles of nanoparticles using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and quantum dots (QDs) as representative examples. Different imaging techniques can provide useful insights in monitoring the in vivo behavior and tissue distribution of these nanoparticles, and a number of strategies were utilized to optimize the PK profiles of CNTs and QDs. Based on the available literature reports, it can be concluded that chemical/physical properties of the nanoparticles (e.g., surface functionalization, hydrodynamic size, shape, surface charge, etc.), along with the administration routes/doses, can play critical roles in determining the PK and biodistribution pattern of nanoparticles. Robust chemistry for surface modification of nanoparticles is a prerequisite for successful future biomedical/clinical applications.

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This work is supported, in part, by the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, the National Institutes of Health (1R01CA169365—01A1), the Department of Defense (W81XWH-11-1-0644), UW Graduate School, and UW Department of Radiology.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Weibo Cai.

Additional information

Hao Hong and Feng Chen contributed equally to this work.

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Hong, H., Chen, F. & Cai, W. Pharmacokinetic Issues of Imaging with Nanoparticles: Focusing on Carbon Nanotubes and Quantum Dots. Mol Imaging Biol 15, 507–520 (2013).

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Key words

  • Pharmacokinetics (PK)
  • Molecular imaging
  • Nanoparticles
  • Carbon nanotube (CNT)
  • Quantum dot (QD)
  • Cancer
  • Angiogenesis
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)
  • Fluorescence