Optimization and validation of FePro cell labeling method

Branislava Janic, Ali M. Rad, Elaine K. Jordan, A. S.M. Iskander, Md M. Ali, N. Ravi S. Varma, Joseph A. Frank, Ali S. Arbab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Current method to magnetically label cells using ferumoxides (Fe)-protamine (Pro) sulfate (FePro) is based on generating FePro complexes in a serum free media that are then incubated overnight with cells for the efficient labeling. However, this labeling technique requires long (>12-16 hours) incubation time and uses relatively high dose of Pro (5-6 mg/ml) that makes large extracellular FePro complexes. These complexes can be difficult to clean with simple cell washes and may create low signal intensity on T2* weighted MRI that is not desirable. The purpose of this study was to revise the current labeling method by using low dose of Pro and adding Fe and Pro directly to the cells before generating any FePro complexes. Human tumor glioma (U251) and human monocytic leukemia cell (THP-1) lines were used as model systems for attached and suspension cell types, respectively and dose dependent (Fe 25 to 100 mg/ml and Pro 0.75 to 3 μg/ml) and time dependent (2 to 48 h) labeling experiments were performed. Labeling efficiency and cell viability of these cells were assessed. Prussian blue staining revealed that more than 95% of cells were labeled. Intracellular iron concentration in U251 cells reached ∼30-35 pg-iron/cell at 24 h when labeled with 100 μg/ml of Fe and 3 μg/ ml of Pro. However, comparable labeling was observed after 4 h across the described FePro concentrations. Similarly, THP-1 cells achieved ∼10 pg-iron/cell at 48 h when labeled with 100 μg/ml of Fe and 3 μg/ml of Pro. Again, comparable labeling was observed after 4 h for the described FePro concentrations. FePro labeling did not significantly affect cell viability. There was almost no extracellular FePro complexes observed after simple cell washes. To validate and to determine the effectiveness of the revised technique, human T-cells, human hematopoietic stem cells (hHSC), human bone marrow stromal cells (hMSC) and mouse neuronal stem cells (mNSC C17.2) were labeled. Labeling for 4 hours using 100 mg/ml of Fe and 3 mg/ml of Pro resulted in very efficient labeling of these cells, without impairing their viability and functional capability. The new technique with short incubation time using 100 μg/ml of Fe and 3 μg/ml of Pro is effective in labeling cells for cellular MRI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5873
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 11 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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