Effect of Phase-Change Nanodroplets and Ultrasound on Blood–Brain Barrier Permeability In Vitro

Stavros Vlatakis, Weiqi Zhang, Sarah Thomas, Paul Cressey, Alexandru Corneliu Moldovan, Hilde Metzger, Paul Prentice, Sandy Cochran, Maya Thanou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Phase-change nanodroplets (PCND;NDs) are emulsions with a perfluorocarbon (PFC) core that undergo acoustic vaporisation as a response to ultrasound (US). Nanodroplets change to microbubbles and cavitate while under the effect of US. This cavitation can apply forces on cell connections in biological barrier membranes, such as the blood–brain barrier (BBB), and trigger a transient and reversible increased permeability to molecules and matter. This study aims to present the preparation of lipid-based NDs and investigate their effects on the brain endothelial cell barrier in vitro. The NDs were prepared using the thin-film hydration method, followed by the PFC addition. They were characterised for size, cavitation (using a high-speed camera), and PFC encapsulation (using FTIR). The bEnd.3 (mouse brain endothelial) cells were seeded onto transwell inserts. Fluorescein with NDs and/or microbubbles were applied on the bEND3 cells and the effect of US on fluorescein permeability was measured. The Live/Dead assay was used to assess the BBB integrity after the treatments. Size and PFC content analysis indicated that the NDs were stable while stored. High-speed camera imaging confirmed that the NDs cavitate after US exposure of 0.12 MPa. The BBB cell model experiments revealed a 4-fold increase in cell membrane permeation after the combined application of US and NDs. The Live/Dead assay results indicated damage to the BBB membrane integrity, but this damage was less when compared to the one caused by microbubbles. This in vitro study shows that nanodroplets have the potential to cause BBB opening in a similar manner to microbubbles. Both cavitation agents caused damage on the endothelial cells. It appears that NDs cause less cell damage compared to microbubbles.

Original languageEnglish
Article number51
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • blood-brain barrier
  • drug delivery
  • nanodroplets
  • permeability
  • ultrasound


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