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A genetically encoded β-lactamase reporter for ultrasensitive 129Xe NMR and MRI in mammalian cells


Hyperpolarized xenon chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) contrast agent for molecular imaging



While genetically encoded optical reporters have enabled biomolecular imaging, the strong scattering of light by tissue is problematic. Optical reporters are limited to examining single cells and transparent model organisms. Alternate non-invasive imaging methods, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are needed for monitoring gene expression and cell migration in vivo. Furthermore, despite excellent spatiotemporal resolution, 1H MRI reporter genes are limited by low detection sensitivity.



Researchers in the Dmochowski Lab have developed a genetically encoded, single protein reporter for hyperpolarized 129Xe NMR and MRI with high saturation contrast for use in molecular imaging applications. Hyperpolarized xenon provides enhanced detection sensitivity.  Because 129Xe is nontoxic, it can be safely delivered via inhalation or injection in vivo.  Furthermore, its small size and hydrophobicity allow for interactions with proteins, occupying hydrophobic cores, substrate-binding sites, and channel pores, enabling the study of biological phenomena. 


129Xe chemical exchange saturation transfer (CEST) occurs between the aqueous solvent and β-lactamase, either in solution or inside a cell. Xenon CEST interactions with β-lactamase yield a distinct saturation peak and chemical shift.  The x-ray crystal structure of the binding of xenon to β-lactamase has been elucidated, which will inform the design of additional CEST agents.



Ivan Dmochowski, Professor of Chemistry







  • Nontoxic, readily deliverable to cells and in vivo
  • High molecular sensitivity
  • Noninvasive imaging method
  • High contrast



  • Molecular imaging
  • Contrast agents
  • Elucidate biological processes, normal and diseased physiological states
  • Study cryptic pockets in proteins


Stage of Development:

  • Proof-of-concept
  • In vitro and in vivo testing


Intellectual Property:

Provisional pending


Reference Media:

  • Wang Y. et al. Angew. Chemie, 2016.
  • Roose B.W. et al.  ACS National Meeting, March 2016.  Single-protein reporter for hyperpolarized xenon magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Dmochowski, I.J. et al.  ACS National Meeting, March 2016.  Xenon: new applications in materials chemistry and biosensing.


Desired Partnerships:

  • License
  • Co-development

Docket #  16-7836 



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Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Cortney Cavanaugh
Licensing Officer, SEAS/SAS Licensing Group
University of Pennsylvania
Ivan Dmochowski