Gold nanoparticles as contrast agents in X-ray imaging and computed tomography

Lisa E. Cole, Ryan D. Ross, Jennifer M. Tilley, Tracy Vargo-Gogola, Ryan K. Roeder

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

149 Scopus citations


Computed tomography enables 3D anatomic imaging at a high spatial resolution, but requires delivery of an X-ray contrast agent to distinguish tissues with similar or low X-ray attenuation. Gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) have gained recent attention as an X-ray contrast agent due to exhibiting a high X-ray attenuation, nontoxicity and facile synthesis and surface functionalization for colloidal stability and targeted delivery. Potential diagnostic applications include blood pool imaging, passive targeting and active targeting, where actively targeted AuNPs could enable molecular imaging by computed tomography. This article summarizes the current state of knowledge for AuNP X-ray contrast agents within a paradigm of key structure-property-function relationships in order to provide guidance for the design of AuNP contrast agents to meet the necessary functional requirements in a particular application. Functional requirements include delivery to the site of interest (e.g., blood, tumors or microcalcifications), nontoxicity during delivery and clearance, targeting or localization at the site of interest and contrast enhancement for the site of interest compared with surrounding tissues. Design is achieved by strategically controlling structural characteristics (composition, mass concentration, size, shape and surface functionalization) for optimized properties and functional performance. Examples from the literature are used to highlight current design trade-offs that exist between the different functional requirements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-341
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • X-ray imaging
  • computed tomography
  • contrast agent
  • delivery
  • gold nanoparticles
  • surface functionalization
  • targeting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Materials Science(all)

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