• cellular MRI;
  • SPIO microparticles;
  • heart valves;
  • tissue engineering;
  • endothelial cells;
  • smooth muscle cells


The intimal and medial linings of the pulmonary artery consist largely of vascular endothelial cells (VECs) and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), respectively. The migration of these cell types to a potential tissue-engineered pulmonary valve (TEPV) implant process is therefore of interest in understanding the valve remodeling process. Visualization and cell tracking by MRI, which employs hypointense contrast achievable through the use of superparamagnetic iron oxide (SPIO) microparticles to label cells, provides a method in which this can be studied. We investigated the SPIO labeling efficiency of human VECs and VSMCs, and used two- and three-dimensional gradient echo sequences to track the migration of these cells in agar gel constructs. Protamine sulfate (4.5 µg/mL) was used to enhance SPIO uptake and was found to have no influence on cell viability or proliferation. MRI experiments were initially performed using a 9.4-T scanner. The results demonstrated that the spatial positions of hypointense spots were relatively unchanged over 12 days. Subsequent MR experiments performed at 7 T demonstrated that three-dimensional imaging provided the best spatial resolution to assess cell fate. R2* maps were bright in SPIO cell-encapsulated gels in comparison with unlabeled counterparts. Signal voids were ruled out as hypointense regions owing to the smooth exponential decay of T2* in these voxels. As a next step, we intend to use the SPIO cell labeling and MR protocols established in this study to assess whether hemodynamic stresses will alter the vascular cell migratory patterns. These studies will shed light on the mechanisms of vascular remodeling after TEPV implantation. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.