A practical and effective strategy for synthesizing PEGylated superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs) is established. In this strategy, poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) is combined with SPIONs via multiple coordination between the carboxylic groups of PAA and SPIONs, which introduces abundant carboxylic groups, then, α,ω-diamino PEG is linked to SPIONs via the amidation of the carboxylic groups. The synthesized PEGylated SPIONs exhibit no cytotoxicity and high resistance to phagocytosis by macrophages in vitro as well as low uptake by the liver and spleen in vivo, which makes the SPIONs highly efficient in tumor imaging by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at a relatively low dose of SPIONs. These outstanding properties are largely due to the significant shielding effect of the dense PEG coating as well as the net neutral surface of the PEGylated SPIONs in physiological conditions. In summary, the PEGylated SPIONs prepared by this strategy exhibit great application potential in tumor imaging as MRI contrast agents targeting through enhanced permeability and retention (EPR) effect.
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