Purpose: We aimed to investigate the effectiveness of ferritin as a contrast agent and a potential reporter gene for tracking tumor cells or macrophages in mouse cancer models. Materials and Methods: Adenoviral human ferritin heavy chain (Ad-hFTH) was administrated to orthotopic glioma models and subcutaneous colon cancer mouse models using U87MG and HCT116 cells, respectively. Brain MR images were acquired before and daily for up to 6 days after the intracranial injection of Ad-hFTH. In the HCT116 tumor model, MR examinations were performed before and at 6, 24, and 48 h after intratumoral injection of Ad-hFTH, as well as before and every two days after intravenous injection of ferritin-labeled macrophages. The contrast effect of ferritin in vitro was measured by MR imaging of cell pellets. MRI examinations using a 7T MR scanner comprised a T1-weighted (T1w) spin-echo sequence, T2-weighted (T2w) relaxation enhancement sequence, and T2*-weighted (T2*w) fast low angle shot sequence. Results: Cell pellet imaging of Ad-hFTH in vitro showed a strong negatively enhanced contrast in T2w and T2*w images, presenting with darker signal intensity in high concentrations of Fe. T2w images of glioma and subcutaneous HCT116 tumor models showed a dark signal intensity around or within the Ad-hFTH tumor, which was distinct with time and apparent in T2*w images. After injection of ferritin-labeled macrophages, negative contrast enhancement was identified within the tumor. Conclusion: Ferritin could be a good candidate as an endogenous MR contrast agent and a potential reporter gene that is capable of maintaining cell labeling stability and cellular safety.
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