Theses Doctoral

The Physical Mechanism of Blood-Brain Barrier Opening Using Focused Ultrasound and Microbubbles

Tung, Yao-Sheng

The key to effective treatment of neurological diseases resides in the safe opening of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), a specialized structure that impedes the delivery of therapeutic agents to the parenchyma. Despite the fact that several approaches have been successful in overcoming the BBB impermeability, none of them can induce localized BBB opening noninvasively except for focused ultrasound (FUS) in conjunction with microbubbles. The physical mechanism behind the opening, however, has not been identified.

Insight into the mechanism can be critical for delineating the safety profile for in both small and large animals alike. Therefore the purpose of this dissertation is to first determine the physical mechanism of FUS-induced BBB opening in mice and then translate this approach to non-human primates. To accomplish this goal, an in vivo transcranial cavitation detection system was developed and tested, built in phantoms and in vivo, to monitor the behavior of the microbubbles in the FUS bean, and to determine the type of cavitation, i.e., the activation of bubbles in an acoustic field, during BBB opening. We showed that the inertial cavitation (IC), a collapse of a bubble, which can vary from a fragmentation of the bubble to shock wave and liquid jets depending on the pressure, thereby damaging the endothelial cells of the brain capillaries, was not required to induce BBB opening in mice. With this system, the role of microbubble properties, including the diameter and shell components, in the BBB opening were determined.

When the BBB opens with stable cavitation (SC), i.e., relatively moderate amplitude changes in the bubble size, the bubble diameter is similar to the capillary diameter (i.e., at 4-5, 6-8 µm) while with inertial cavitation it is not (i.e., at 1-2 µm). The bubble may thus have to be in closer proximity to the capillary wall to induce BBB opening without IC. The BBB opening properties, such as volume and permeability, however, were not affected by the shell component of the microbubbles in mice. The connection between the physical and physiological mechanism was then investigated to identify the lowest peak rarefactional pressure BBB opening threshold at 1.5 MHz (0.18 MPa). A sufficiently long pulse (pulse length = 0.5 ms) was required for the SC to induce BBB opening at the lowest pressure. However, the tight junctions, the main formation of the BBB, were found not to be disrupted after sonication at both low (0.18 MPa) and high (0.45 MPa) pressures.

Therefore, the transcellular pathway may be the main route of the FUS-induced BBB opening. Finally, the cavitation-guided BBB opening system was used to induce reversible BBB opening in non-human primates. This is a major step towards clinical feasibility. In conclusion, a transcranial cavitation detection system was developed, in order to characterize the physical mechanism, the role of the microbubbles, and the corresponding physiological response of the FUS-induced BBB opening.


  • thumnail for Tung_columbia_0054D_10905.pdf Tung_columbia_0054D_10905.pdf application/pdf 13.7 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Biomedical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Konofagou, Elisa E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 23, 2012