The efficacy of therapies based on neural stem cells (NSC) has been demonstrated in preclinical models of several central nervous system (CNS) diseases. Before any potential human application of such promising therapies can be envisaged, there are some important issues that need to be solved. The most relevant one is the requirement for a noninvasive technique capable of monitoring NSC delivery, homing to target sites and trafficking. Knowledge of the location and temporospatial migration of either transplanted or genetically modified NSC is of the utmost importance in analyzing mechanisms of correction and cell distribution. Further, such a technique may represent a crucial step toward clinical application of NSC-based approaches in humans, for both designing successful protocols and monitoring their outcome. Among the diverse imaging approaches available for noninvasive cell tracking, such as nuclear medicine techniques, fluorescence and bioluminescence, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has unique advantages. Its high temporospatial resolution, high sensitivity and specificity render MRI one of the most promising imaging modalities available, since it allows dynamic visualization of migration of transplanted cells in animal models and patients during clinically useful time periods. Different cellular and molecular labeling approaches for MRI depiction of NSC are described and discussed in this review, as well as the most relevant issues to be considered in optimizing molecular imaging techniques for clinical application.
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