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Mihaela A. Stavarache, Nicholas Petersen, Eric M. Jurgens, Elizabeth R. Milstein, Zachary B. Rosenfeld, Douglas J. Ballon and Michael G. Kaplitt


Surgical infusion of gene therapy vectors has provided opportunities for biological manipulation of specific brain circuits in both animal models and human patients. Transient focal opening of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) by MR-guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) raises the possibility of noninvasive CNS gene therapy to target precise brain regions. However, variable efficiency and short follow-up of studies to date, along with recent suggestions of the potential for immune reactions following MRgFUS BBB disruption, all raise questions regarding the viability of this approach for clinical translation. The objective of the current study was to evaluate the efficiency, safety, and long-term stability of MRgFUS-mediated noninvasive gene therapy in the mammalian brain.


Focused ultrasound under the control of MRI, in combination with microbubbles consisting of albumin-coated gas microspheres, was applied to rat striatum, followed by intravenous infusion of an adeno-associated virus serotype 1/2 (AAV1/2) vector expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) as a marker. Following recovery, animals were followed from several hours up to 15 months. Immunostaining for GFP quantified transduction efficiency and stability of expression. Quantification of neuronal markers was used to determine histological safety over time, while inflammatory markers were examined for evidence of immune responses.


Transitory disruption of the BBB by MRgFUS resulted in efficient delivery of the AAV1/2 vector to the targeted rodent striatum, with 50%–75% of striatal neurons transduced on average. GFP transgene expression appeared to be stable over extended periods of time, from 2 weeks to 6 months, with evidence of ongoing stable expression as long as 16 months in a smaller cohort of animals. No evidence of substantial toxicity, tissue injury, or neuronal loss was observed. While transient inflammation from BBB disruption alone was noted for the first few days, consistent with prior observations, no evidence of brain inflammation was observed from 2 weeks to 6 months following MRgFUS BBB opening, despite delivery of a virus and expression of a foreign protein in target neurons.


This study demonstrates that transitory BBB disruption using MRgFUS can be a safe and efficient method for site-specific delivery of viral vectors to the brain, raising the potential for noninvasive focal human gene therapy for neurological disorders.

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J. Levi Chazen, Harini Sarva, Philip E. Stieg, Robert J. Min, Douglas J. Ballon, Kane O. Pryor, Paul M. Riegelhaupt and Michael G. Kaplitt


The objective of this study was to evaluate the utility of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) tractography–based targeting of the dentatorubrothalamic tract (DRT) for magnetic resonance–guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) thalamotomy in patients with essential tremor (ET) and correlate postprocedural tract disruption with clinical outcomes.


Four patients received preprocedural and immediate postprocedural DTI in addition to traditional anatomical MRI sequences for MRgFUS thalamotomy. Optimal ablation sites were selected based on the patient-specific location of the DRT as demonstrated by DTI (direct targeting) and correlated with traditional atlas-based measurements for thalamic ventral intermediate nucleus (Vim) lesioning (indirect targeting). Fiber tracts were displayed three-dimensionally during the procedure and used in conjunction with clinical signs of tremor control for fine correction of the ablation site. Immediately following the conclusion of the procedure, the MRgFUS head frame was removed and patients were placed in a 32-channel MRI head coil for follow-up DTI and anatomical MRI sequences.


All patients had excellent postoperative tremor control and successful pre- and postprocedural DTI fiber tracking of the corticospinal tract, medial lemniscus, and DRT. Immediate postprocedure DTI failed to track the DRT ipsilateral to the lesion site with a preserved contralateral DRT, coincident with substantial resolution of contralateral tremor.


DTI can reliably identify the optimal ablation target and demonstrates tract disruption on immediate postprocedural imaging. A clinical improvement of ET was observed immediately following the procedure, correlating with DRT disruption and suggesting that interruption of the DRT is a consequence of clinically successful MRgFUS thalamotomy. These findings may have utility for both MRgFUS procedure planning in surgically naive patients and retreatment of patients who have previously undergone unsuccessful thalamic Vim lesioning.

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Peter Grunert, Harry H. Gebhard, Robby D. Bowles, Andrew R. James, Hollis G. Potter, Michael Macielak, Katherine D. Hudson, Marjan Alimi, Douglas J. Ballon, Eric Aronowitz, Apostolos John Tsiouris, Lawrence J. Bonassar and Roger Härtl


Tissue-engineered intervertebral discs (TE-IVDs) represent a new experimental approach for the treatment of degenerative disc disease. Compared with mechanical implants, TE-IVDs may better mimic the properties of native discs. The authors conducted a study to evaluate the outcome of TE-IVDs implanted into the rat-tail spine using radiological parameters and histology.


Tissue-engineered intervertebral discs consist of a distinct nucleus pulposus (NP) and anulus fibrosus (AF) that are engineered in vitro from sheep IVD chondrocytes. In 10 athymic rats a discectomy in the caudal spine was performed. The discs were replaced with TE-IVDs. Animals were kept alive for 8 months and were killed for histological evaluation. At 1, 5, and 8 months, MR images were obtained; T1-weighted sequences were used for disc height measurements, and T2-weighted sequences were used for morphological analysis. Quantitative T2 relaxation time analysis was used to assess the water content and T1ρ-relaxation time to assess the proteoglycan content of TE-IVDs.


Disc height of the transplanted segments remained constant between 68% and 74% of healthy discs. Examination of TE-IVDs on MR images revealed morphology similar to that of native discs. T2-relaxation time did not differ between implanted and healthy discs, indicating similar water content of the NP tissue. The size of the NP decreased in TE-IVDs. Proteoglycan content in the NP was lower than it was in control discs. Ossification of the implanted segment was not observed. Histological examination revealed an AF consisting of an organized parallel-aligned fiber structure. The NP matrix appeared amorphous and contained cells that resembled chondrocytes.


The TE-IVDs remained viable over 8 months in vivo and maintained a structure similar to that of native discs. Tissue-engineered intervertebral discs should be explored further as an option for the potential treatment of degenerative disc disease.