Nitroxide radicals are paramagnetic contrast agents, used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that also exert antioxidant effects. Participating in cellular redox reactions, they lose their ability to provide contrast as a function of time after administration. In this study, the rate of contrast loss was correlated to the reducing power of the tissue or the "redox status." The preferential reduction of nitroxides in tumors compared with normal tissue was observed by MRI. The influence of the structure of the nitroxide on the reduction rate was investigated by MRI using two cell-permeable nitroxides, 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6,-tetramethyl-1-piperidynyloxyl (Tempol) and 3-carbamoyl-2,2,5,5-tetramethylpyrrolidine-1-oxyl (3CP), and one cell-impermeable nitroxide, 3-carboxy-2, 2,5,5,5-tetramethylpyrrolidine-1-oxyl (3CxP). Pharmacokinetic images of these nitroxides in normal tissue, tumor, kidney, and artery regions in mice were simultaneously obtained using MRI. The decay of Tempol and 3CP in tumor tissue was significantly faster than in normal tissue. No significant change in the total nitroxide (oxidized + reduced forms) was noted from tissue extracts, suggesting that the loss in contrast as a function of time is a result of intracellular bioreduction. However, in the case of 3CxP (membrane impermeable), there was no difference in the reduction rates between normal and tumor tissue. The time course of T1 enhancement by 3CxP and the total amount of 3CxP (oxidized + reduced) in the femoral region showed similar pharmacokinetics. These results show that the differential bioreduction of cell-permeable nitroxides in tumor and normal tissue is supported by intracellular processes and the reduction rates are a means by which the intracellular redox status can be assessed noninvasively.
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