Brainstem blood brain barrier disruption using focused ultrasound: A demonstration of feasibility and enhanced doxorubicin delivery

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Abstract

Magnetic Resonance Image-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) has been used to achieve transient blood brain barrier (BBB) opening without tissue injury. Delivery of a targeted ultrasonic wave causes an interaction between administered microbubbles and the capillary bed resulting in enhanced vessel permeability. The use of MRgFUS in the brainstem has not previously been shown but could provide value in the treatment of tumours such as Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) where the intact BBB has contributed to the limited success of chemotherapy. Our primary objective was to determine whether the use of MRgFUS in this eloquent brain region could be performed without histological injury and functional deficits. Our secondary objective was to select an effective chemotherapeutic against patient derived DIPG cell lines and demonstrate enhanced brainstem delivery when combined with MRgFUS in vivo.

Female Sprague Dawley rats were randomised to one of four groups: 1) Microbubble administration but no MRgFUS treatment; 2) MRgFUS only; 3) MRgFUS+microbubbles; and 4) MRgFUS+microbubbles+cisplatin. Physiological assessment was performed by monitoring of heart and respiratory rates. Motor function and co-ordination were evaluated by Rotarod and grip strength testing. Histological analysis for haemorrhage (H&E), neuronal nuclei (NeuN) and apoptosis (cleaved Caspase-3) was also performed. A drug screen of eight chemotherapy agents was conducted in three patient-derived DIPG cell lines (SU-DIPG IV, SU-DIPG XIII and SU-DIPG XVII). Doxorubicin was identified as an effective agent. NOD/SCID/GAMMA (NSG) mice were subsequently administered with 5mg/kg of intravenous doxorubicin at the time of one of the following: 1) Microbubbles but no MRgFUS; 2) MRgFUS only; 3) MRgFUS + microbubbles and 4) no intervention. Brain specimens were extracted at 2h and doxorubicin quantification was conducted using liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC/MS).

BBB opening was confirmed by contrast enhancement on T1-weighted MR imaging and positive Evans blue staining of the brainstem. Normal cardiorespiratory parameters were preserved. Grip strength and Rotarod testing demonstrating no decline in performance across all groups. Histological analysis showed no evidence of haemorrhage, neuronal loss or increased apoptosis.

Doxorubicin demonstrated cytotoxicity against all three cell lines and is known to have poor BBB permeability. Quantities measured in the brainstem of NSG mice were highest in the group receiving MRgFUS and microbubbles (431.5ng/g). This was significantly higher than in mice who received no intervention (7.6ng/g).

Our data demonstrates both the preservation of histological and functional integrity of the brainstem following MRgFUS for BBB opening and the ability to significantly enhance drug delivery to the region, giving promise to the treatment of brainstem-specific conditions.

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