MRI biosensors: A short primer

Angelique Louie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Interest in MRI contrast agents for molecular imaging of biological function experienced a surge of excitement approximately 20 years ago with the development of the first activatable contrast agents that could act as biosensors and turn "on" in response to a specific biological activity. This brief tutorial, based on a short course lecture from the 2011 ISMRM meeting, provides an overview of underlying principles governing the design of biosensing contrast agents. We describe mechanisms by which an MRI contrast agent can be made into a sensor for both T1 and T2 types contrast agents. Examples of biological activities that can interact with a contrast agent are discussed using specific examples from the recent literature to illustrate the primary mechanisms of action that have been used to achieve activation. MRI sensors for pH, ion binding, enzyme cleavage, and oxidation-reduction are presented. This article is not meant to be an exhaustive review, but an illustrative primer to explain how activation can be achieved for an MRI contrast agent. Chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) is not covered as these agents were covered in a separate lecture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)530-539
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Activatable probes
  • Relaxation agents
  • Tutorial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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