Gas-filled microbubbles are currently in clinical use as blood pool contrast agents for ultrasound imaging. The goal of this review is to discuss the trends and issues related to these relatively unusual intravascular materials, which are not small molecules per se, not polymers, not even nanoparticles, but larger micrometer size structures, compressible, flexible, elastic, and deformable. The intent is to connect current research and initial studies from 2 to 3 decades ago, tied to gas exchange between the bubbles and surrounding biological medium, in the following areas of focus: (1) parameters of microbubble movement in relation to vasculature specifics; (2) gas uptake and loss from the bubbles in the vasculature; (3) adhesion of microbubbles to target receptors in the vasculature; and (4) microbubble interaction with the surrounding vessels and tissues during insonation.Microbubbles are generally safe and require orders of magnitude lower material doses than x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents. Application of microbubbles will soon extend beyond blood pool contrast and tissue perfusion imaging. Microbubbles can probe molecular and cellular biomarkers of disease by targeted contrast ultrasound imaging. This approach is now in clinical trials, for example, with the aim to detect and delineate tumor nodes in prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer. Imaging of inflammation, ischemia-reperfusion injury, and ischemic memory is also feasible. More importantly, intravascular microbubbles can be used for local deposition of focused ultrasound energy to enhance drug and gene delivery to cells and tissues, across endothelial barrier, especially blood-brain barrier.Overall, microbubble behavior, stability and in vivo lifetime, bioeffects upon the action of ultrasound and resulting enhancement of drug and gene delivery, as well as targeted imaging are critically dependent on the events of gas exchange between the bubbles and surrounding media, as outlined in this review.

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