Co-registered photoacoustic and fluorescent imaging of a switchable nanoprobe based on J-aggregates of indocyanine green
We introduce a preclinical imaging platform – a 3D photoacoustic/fluorescence tomography (PAFT) instrument augmented with an environmentally responsive dual-contrast biocompatible nanoprobe. The PAFT instrument was designed for simultaneous acquisition of photoacoustic and fluorescence orthogonal projections at each rotational position of a biological object, enabling direct co-registration of the two imaging modalities. The nanoprobe was based on liposomes loaded with J-aggregates of indocyanine green (PAtrace). Once PAtrace interacts with the environment, a transition from J-aggregate to monomeric ICG is induced. The subsequent recovery of monomeric ICG is characterized by dramatic changes in the optical absorption spectrum and reinstated fluorescence. In the activated state, PAtrace can be simultaneously detected by both imaging modes of the PAFT instrument using 780 nm excitation and fluorescence detection at 810 nm. The fluorescence imaging component is used to boost detection sensitivity by providing low resolution map of activated nanoprobes, which are then more precisely mapped in 3D by the photoacoustic imaging component. Activated vs non-activated particles can be distinguished based on their different optical absorption peaks, removing the requirements for complex image registration between reference and detection scans. Preliminary phantom and in vivo animal imaging results showed successful activation and visualization of PAtrace with high sensitivity and resolution. The proposed PAFT-PAtrace imaging platform could be used in various functional and molecular imaging applications including multi-point in vivo assessment of early metastasis.