Nitroxides are redox-sensitive probes, which are useful in noninvasively delineating tissue heterogeneity especially with respect to metabolic activity and tissue oxygenation. Recent studies have shown that nitroxides are in vitro and in vivo radioprotectors and selectively protect normal tissue compared to tumor tissue. It has been postulated that the basis for selective radioprotection of normal tissues is greater bioreduction of nitroxides in tumor tissue compared to normal tissue. The aim of the present study was to investigate the distribution and lifetime of nitroxides in tumor and normal tissues. Mice were implanted with tumor cells (RIF-1) in the thigh, and the tumor was allowed to grow to about 10–15 mm in diameter. After i.v. infusion of nitroxides, in vivo electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging of the tumor were performed using a specially built bridged-loop surface resonator. The pharmacokinetic and spatial distribution of the nitroxides in tumor tissue were followed and compared with those in normal tissue. Three-dimensional spatial images showed significant heterogeneity in the nitroxide distribution as well as reduction rates. The nitroxide reduction rates were significantly higher in tumors than in the normal tissue. Measurements using spin label oximetry showed a substantial difference in the level of oxygenation between normal tissue (muscle) and tumor tissue. Average pO2 levels in tumor tissue were found to be 3-fold lower than in a corresponding volume of normal tissue. The lower pO2 levels in tumor compared to normal tissue may explain the more rapid reduction of nitroxides in these tissues. This study demonstrates that electron paramagnetic resonance imaging can perform noninvasive anatomical as well as functional imaging and provide in vivo physiological information regarding cellular metabolism in tumor and normal tissues.

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This work was supported in part by NIH Grant HL-38324 and an Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association (to P. K.).

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