Purpose: To visualize and quantify lymphatic drainage of aqueous humor from the eye to cervical lymph nodes in the dynamic state.

Methods: A near-infrared tracer was injected into the right eye anterior chamber of 10 mice under general anesthesia. Mice were imaged with photoacoustic tomography before and 20 minutes, 2, 4, and 6 hours after injection. Tracer signal intensity was measured in both eyes and right and left neck lymph nodes at every time point and signal intensity slopes were calculated. Slope differences between right and left eyes and right and left nodes were compared using paired t-test. Neck nodes were examined with fluorescence optical imaging and histologically for the presence of tracer.

Results: Following right eye intracameral injection of tracer, an exponential decrease in tracer signal was observed from 20 minutes to 6 hours in all mice. Slope differences of the signal intensity between right and left eyes were significant (P < 0.001). Simultaneously, increasing tracer signal was observed in the right neck node from 20 minutes to 6 hours. Slope differences of the signal intensity between right and left neck nodes were significant (P = 0.0051). Ex vivo optical fluorescence imaging and histopathologic examination of neck nodes confirmed tracer presence within submandibular nodes. Conclusions: Active lymphatic drainage of aqueous from the eye to cervical lymph nodes was measured noninvasively by photoacoustic imaging of near-infrared nanoparticles. This unique in vivo assay may help to uncover novel drugs that target alternative outflow routes to lower IOP in glaucoma and may provide new insights into lymphatic drainage in eye health and disease.

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