A new approach for the preparation of carbohydrate-coated magnetic nanoparticles is reported. In a first step, we show that the pH-driven assembly-disassembly natural process that occurs in apoferritin protein is effective for the encapsulation of maghemite nanoparticles of different sizes: 4 and 6 nm. In a second step, we demonstrate that the presence of functional amine groups in the outer shell of apoferritin allows functionalization with two carbohydrates, N-acetyl-D-glucosamine and d-mannose. High-resolution electron microscopy (HREM), high angle annular dark field scanning electron microscopy (HAADF-STEM), electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS), X-ray diffraction (XRD), and SQUID technique have been used to characterize the magnetic samples, termed herein Apomaghemites. The in vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies showed the efficiency in contrasting images for these samples; that is, the r(2) NMR relaxivities are comparable with Endorem (a commercial superparamagnetic MRI contrast agent). The r(2) relaxivity values as well as the pre-contrast and post-contrast T(2)*-weighted images suggested that our systems could be used as perspective superparamagnetic contrast agents for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The carbohydrate-functionalized Apomaghemite nanoparticles retained their recognition abilities, as demonstrated by the strong affinity with their corresponding carbohydrate-binding lectins.
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