Department of Experimental Molecular Imaging, RWTH Aachen University, Germany
Stabilized microbubbles with a size between 1-5 µm are used as ultrasound contrast agents in the clinical routine. They have shown convincing results for the vascular characterization of tissues as well as in echocardiography. Due to their size, microbubbles strictly remain intravascular where they can be detected with high sensitivity and specificity. This qualifies them for intravascular molecular imaging. Many studies have been published reporting on the successful use of microbubbles conjugated to specific ligands for target identification in vivo. Among them, there are several promising examples on how to use molecular ultrasound for the imaging of integrin expression. This review provides an overview on the composition of ultrasound contrast agents that can be used for molecular imaging and their detection by ultrasound using destructive and non destructive methods. Furthermore, concrete examples are given on the use of molecular ultrasound to characterize integrin expression on vessels. These cover oncological applications where integrin targeted microbubbles were used to identify and characterize tumor angiogenesis and to assess tumor response to antiangiogenic drugs as well as to radiotherapy. In addition, increased accumulation of integrin targeted microbubbles was found during vascular reformation in ischemic tissues as well as in vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques. In summary, there is clear evidence from preclinical studies that integrin targeted ultrasound imaging is a valuable tool for the characterization of a broad spectrum of diseases. Thus, more efforts should be put into translating this promising technology into the clinics.
Keywords: Molecular ultrasound, Microbubble, Integrin, Angiogenesis, Therapy response.