Theranostics 2018; 8(7):1879-1891. doi:10.7150/thno.22070 This issue

Research Paper

Ultrasound Molecular Imaging of Atherosclerosis for Early Diagnosis and Therapeutic Evaluation through Leucocyte-like Multiple Targeted Microbubbles

Fei Yan1*, Yu Sun2,3*, Yang Mao4, Meiying Wu1, Zhiting Deng1, Shuai Li1, Xin Liu1, Li Xue2✉, Hairong Zheng2✉

1. Paul C. Lauterbur Research Center for Biomedical Imaging, Institute of Biomedical and Health Engineering, Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen 518055 China
2. Ultrasound Room, Department of Cardiology, Fourth Affiliated Hospital of Harbin Medical University, Harbin 150001, China
3. Department of Ultrasonography, Shenzhen People's Hospital, Second Clinical Medical College of Jinan University, Shenzhen, 518020, China.
4. The Key Laboratory of Cardiovascular Remodeling and Function Research, Chinese Ministry of Education and Chinese Ministry of Health, The State and Shandong Province Joint Key Laboratory of Translational Cardiovascular Medicine, Qilu Hospital of Shandong University, Jinan, Shandong, 250012, PR China.
*Both authors contributed equally to this manuscript.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) license ( See for full terms and conditions.
Yan F, Sun Y, Mao Y, Wu M, Deng Z, Li S, Liu X, Xue L, Zheng H. Ultrasound Molecular Imaging of Atherosclerosis for Early Diagnosis and Therapeutic Evaluation through Leucocyte-like Multiple Targeted Microbubbles. Theranostics 2018; 8(7):1879-1891. doi:10.7150/thno.22070. Available from

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Graphic abstract

Cardiovascular diseases resulting from atherosclerosis have become a serious threat to human health. It is well-known that an ongoing inflammatory response is involved during atherosclerosis progression that ultimately results in the accumulation of lipids and formation of plaques. Monitoring the pathological changes during the inflammatory response will be of great significance for early diagnosis and therapeutic evaluation of atherosclerosis. Targeted contrast-enhanced ultrasonography has been shown to be a promising noninvasive imaging technique for evaluating the degree of atherosclerosis and may potentially be translated to clinical imaging in the future. However, inadequate cell adhesion of targeted microbubbles (MBs) in large arterial vessels still remains a great challenge.

Methods: By mimicking the leucocytes that are recruited to the vessel wall during the initiation of atherosclerosis through selectin-dependent arrest and cell adhesion molecule-mediated firm cell adhesion, we developed VCAM-1/ICAM-1/P-selectin-targeted MBVIS by integrating VCAM-1 and ICAM-1 antibodies and synthetic polymeric sialyl Lewis X (sLex) onto the MB surface.

Results: The resulting MBVIS had a high affinity to inflammatory bEnd.3 cells in both static and dynamic flow conditions. Significantly enhanced ultrasound imaging signals were achieved by MBVIS in detecting the atherosclerosis progress when compared with the single- or dual-targeted MBs. Taking advantage of the artificial MBVIS, less ultrasound imaging signals were found in the atorvastatin-treated, but not placebo-treated, ApoE-deficient mice with atherosclerosis, revealing a potential therapeutic efficacy of atorvastatin for early stage atherosclerosis. This was further confirmed by histologic staining examination.

Conclusions: Our study provides a promising ultrasound molecular imaging probe for early-stage diagnosis and therapeutic evaluation of atherosclerosis.

Keywords: Ultrasound molecular imaging, Therapeutic evaluation, Atherosclerosis, Targeted microbubbles