• hyperpolarization;
  • NMR spectroscopy;
  • xenon;
  • cells

We show that the differentiation between internal and external compartments of various biological cells in suspension can be made via simple NMR spectra of hyperpolarized 129Xe. The spectral separation between the signals of 129Xe in these two compartments is already known for red blood cells, because of the strong interaction of the noble gas with hemoglobin. The observation of two separate peaks in the 200-ppm region can be seen with both eukaryotic and prokaryotic cells, some of which are not known to contain paramagnetic proteins in large quantities. Using different experiments in which the cells are lysed, swell or are blocked in G2 phase, we demonstrate that the low-field-shifted peak observed corresponds to xenon in the aqueous pool inside the cells and not in the membranes. The presence of this additional peak is a clear indication of cell integrity, and its integration allows the quantification of the total cell volume. The relaxation time of intracellular xenon is sufficiently long to open up promising perspectives for cell characterization. The exchange time between the inner and outer cell compartments (on the order of 30 ms) renders possible the targeting of intracellular receptors, whereas the observation of chemical shift variations represents a method of revealing the presence of toxic species in the cells. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.