Targeted tumor dual mode CT/MR imaging using multifunctional polyethylenimine-entrapped gold nanoparticles loaded with gadolinium

We report the construction and characterization of polyethylenimine (PEI)-entrapped gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) chelated with gadolinium (Gd) ions for targeted dual mode tumor CT/MR imaging in vivo. In this work, polyethylene glycol (PEG) monomethyl ether-modified PEI was sequentially modified with Gd chelator and folic acid (FA)-linked PEG (FA-PEG) was used as a template to synthesize AuNPs, followed by Gd(III) chelation and acetylation of the remaining PEI surface amines. The formed FA-targeted PEI-entrapped AuNPs loaded with Gd (FA-Gd-Au PENPs) were well characterized in terms of structure, composition, morphology, and size distribution. We show that the FA-Gd-Au PENPs with an Au core size of 3.0 nm are water dispersible, colloidally stable, and noncytotoxic in a given concentration range. Thanks to the coexistence of Au and Gd elements within one nanoparticulate system, the FA-Gd-Au PENPs display a better X-ray attenuation property than clinical iodinated contrast agent (e.g. Omnipaque) and reasonable r1 relaxivity (1.1 mM−1s−1). These properties allow the FA-targeted particles to be used as an efficient nanoprobe for dual mode CT/MR imaging of tumors with excellent FA-mediated targeting specificity. With the demonstrated organ biocompatibility, the designed FA-Gd-Au PENPs may hold a great promise to be used as a nanoprobe for CT/MR dual mode imaging of different FA receptor-overexpressing tumors.