Scientific Reports publication: Effect of Gold Nanoparticle Size on Their Properties as Contrast Agents for Computed Tomography

In this paper, the MOLECUBES X-CUBE was used to understand the effect of gold nanoparticle size on CT contrast generation.

Scientific Reports. 2019; 9(1):14912. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-50332-8.


Computed tomography (CT) is one of the most commonly used clinical imaging modalities. There have recently been many reports of novel contrast agents for CT imaging. In particular, the development of gold nanoparticles (AuNP) as CT contrast agents is a topic of intense interest. AuNP have favorable characteristics for this application such as high payloads of contrast generating material, strong X-ray attenuation, excellent biocompatibility, tailorable surface chemistry, and tunable sizes and shapes. However, there have been conflicting reports on the role of AuNP size on their contrast generation for CT. We therefore sought to extensively investigate the AuNP size-CT contrast relationship. In order to do this, we synthesized AuNP with sizes ranging from 4 to 152 nm and capped them with 5 kDa m-PEG. The contrast generation of AuNP of different sizes was investigated with three clinical CT, a spectral photon counting CT (SPCCT) and two micro CT systems. X-ray attenuation was quantified as attenuation rate in Hounsfield units per unit concentration (HU/mM). No statistically significant difference in CT contrast generation was found among different AuNP sizes via phantom imaging with any of the systems tested. Furthermore, in vivo imaging was performed in mice to provide insight into the effect of AuNP size on animal biodistribution at CT dose levels, which has not previously been explored. Both in vivo imaging and ex vivo analysis with inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES) indicated that AuNP that are 15 nm or smaller have long blood circulation times, while larger AuNP accumulated in the liver and spleen more rapidly. Therefore, while we observed no AuNP size effect on CT contrast generation, there is a significant effect of size on AuNP diagnostic utility.