In Vivo MR Imaging of Pulmonary Perfusion and Gas Exchange in Rats via Continuous Extracorporeal Infusion of Hyperpolarized 129Xe

Background Hyperpolarized (HP) 129Xe magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) permits high resolution, regional visualization of pulmonary ventilation. Additionally, its reasonably high solubility (>10%) and large chemical shift range (>200 ppm) in tissues allow HP 129Xe to serve as a regional probe of pulmonary perfusion and gas transport, when introduced directly into the vasculature. In earlier work, vascular delivery was accomplished in rats by first dissolving HP 129Xe in a biologically compatible carrier solution, injecting the solution into the vasculature, and then detecting HP 129Xe as it emerged into the alveolar airspaces. Although easily implemented, this approach was constrained by the tolerable injection volume and the duration of the HP 129Xe signal. Methods and Principal Findings Here, we overcome the volume and temporal constraints imposed by injection, by using hydrophobic, microporous, gas-exchange membranes to directly and continuously infuse 129Xe into the arterial blood of live rats with an extracorporeal (EC) circuit. The resulting gas-phase 129Xe signal is sufficient to generate diffusive gas exchange- and pulmonary perfusion-dependent, 3D MR images with a nominal resolution of 2×2×2 mm3. We also show that the 129Xe signal dynamics during EC infusion are well described by an analytical model that incorporates both mass transport into the blood and longitudinal relaxation. Conclusions Extracorporeal infusion of HP 129Xe enables rapid, 3D MR imaging of rat lungs and, when combined with ventilation imaging, will permit spatially resolved studies of the ventilation-perfusion ratio in small animals. Moreover, EC infusion should allow 129Xe to be delivered elsewhere in the body and make possible functional and molecular imaging approaches that are currently not feasible using inhaled HP 129Xe.