Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) enables high-resolution non-invasive observation of the anatomy and function of intact organisms. However, previous MRI reporters of key biological processes tied to gene expression have been limited by the inherently low molecular sensitivity of conventional 1H MRI. This limitation could be overcome through the use of hyperpolarized nuclei, such as in the noble gas xenon, but previous reporters acting on such nuclei have been synthetic. Here, we introduce the first genetically encoded reporters for hyperpolarized 129Xe MRI. These expressible reporters are based on gas vesicles (GVs), gas-binding protein nanostructures expressed by certain buoyant microorganisms. We show that GVs are capable of chemical exchange saturation transfer interactions with xenon, which enables chemically amplified GV detection at picomolar concentrations (a 100- to 10,000-fold improvement over comparable constructs for 1H MRI). We demonstrate the use of GVs as heterologously expressed indicators of gene expression and chemically targeted exogenous labels in MRI experiments performed on living cells.
At a glance
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