Purpose Both experimental and initial clinical studies have shown the therapeutic potential of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) in liver disease. Noninvasive tracking of MSCs could facilitate its clinical translation. The purpose of this study was to optimize MSCs delivery dose and route in mice with acute liver injury using bioluminescence imaging (BLI) to track the cells. Procedures MSCs were labeled with the Luc2-mKate2 dual-fusion reporter gene (MSCs-R). The fate of MSCs-R was tracked through in vivo BLI after administration of different doses or delivery through different routes. Results When delivered via the superior mesenteric vein (SMV), the high-dose (1.0 × 106 and 5.0 × 105) group mice demonstrated high liver BLI signal but also had lethal portal vein embolization (PVE). By contrast, no PVE and its related death occurred in the low-dose (2.5 × 105) group mice. Thus, 2.5 × 105 is the optimal delivery dose. Three delivery routes, i.e., inferior vena cava (IVC), SMV, and intrahepatic (IH) injection, were also systematically compared. After IVC infusion, MSCs-R were quickly trapped inside the lungs, and no detectable homing to the liver and other organs was observed. By IH injection, lung entrapment was bypassed, but MSCs-R distribution was only localized in the injection region of the liver. By contrast, after SMV infusion, MSCs-R were dispersedly distributed and stayed as long as 7-day posttransplantation in the liver. The in vivo imaging results were further validated by ex vivo imaging, digital subtraction angiography (DSA), and tissue analysis. Therefore, SMV is the optimal MSCs delivery route for liver disease. Conclusions Collectively, BLI, which could dynamically and quantitatively track cellular location and survival, is useful in determining MSCs transplantation parameters.
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