Targeted T1 Magnetic Resonance Imaging Contrast Enhancement with Extraordinarily Small CoFe2O4 Nanoparticles

Extraordinarily small (2.4 nm) cobalt ferrite nanoparticles (ESCIoNs) were synthesized by a one-pot thermal decomposition approach to study their potential as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) contrast agents. Fine size control was achieved using oleylamine alone, and annular dark-field scanning transmission electron microscopy revealed highly crystalline cubic spinel particles with atomic resolution. Ligand exchange with dimercaptosuccinic acid rendered the particles stable in physiological conditions with a hydrodynamic diameter of 12 nm. The particles displayed superparamagnetic properties and a low r2/r1 ratio suitable for a T1 contrast agent. The particles were functionalized with bile acid, which improved biocompatibility by significant reduction of reactive oxygen species generation and is a first step toward liver-targeted T1 MRI. Our study demonstrates the potential of ESCIoNs as T1 MRI contrast agents.