The tracking of the in vivo biodistribution of transplanted human mesenchymal stromal cells (hMSCs) relies on reporter genes or on the addition of exogenous imaging agents. However, reporter genes and exogenous labels may require bespoke manufacturing and regulatory processes if used in cell therapies, and the labels may alter the cells’ properties and are diluted on cellular division. Here we show that high-mannose N-linked glycans, which are abundantly expressed on the surface of hMSCs, can serve as a biomarker for the label-free tracking of transplanted hMSCs by mannose-weighted chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). For live mice with luciferase-transfected hMSCs transplanted into their brains, post-mortem fluorescence staining with a mannose-specific lectin showed that increases in the CEST MRI signal, which correlated well with the bioluminescence intensity of viable hMSCs for 14 days, corresponded to the presence of mannose. In vitro, osteogenically differentiated hMSCs led to lower CEST MRI signal intensities owing to the concomitantly reduced expression of mannose. The label-free imaging of hMSCs may facilitate the development and testing of cell therapies.
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The main data supporting the results in this study are available within the paper and its Supplementary Information. The raw and analysed datasets generated during the study are too large to be publicly shared, but they are available for research purposes from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
Custom-written MATLAB scripts, including codes for correcting B0 inhomogeneity and for image post-processing, are available at http://godzilla.kennedykrieger.org/CEST.
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This project was supported by the Pearl and Yueh-Heng Yang Foundation, NIH R56 NS098520 (J.W.M.B.) and NIH P41 EB024495 (J.W.M.B). We thank C. Chen for providing mNeurons.
P.W. is founder and shareholder of IntraART LLC and Ti-Com LLC. This potential competing interest is managed by the University of Maryland, Baltimore. J.W.M.B. is a paid consultant to NovaDip Biosciences SA, NanomediGene LLC and SuperBranche. These arrangements have been reviewed and approved by the Johns Hopkins University in accordance with its conflict-of-interest policies. The other authors declare no competing interests.
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Yuan, Y., Wang, C., Kuddannaya, S. et al. In vivo tracking of unlabelled mesenchymal stromal cells by mannose-weighted chemical exchange saturation transfer MRI. Nat. Biomed. Eng 6, 658–666 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41551-021-00822-w