Widespread metastasis is the major cause of death from melanoma and other types of cancer. At present, the dynamic aspects of the metastatic cascade remain enigmatic. The feasibility to track circulating melanoma cells deep within living intact organisms can greatly impact our knowledge on tumor metastasis, but existing imaging approaches lack the sensitivity, spatio-temporal resolution or penetration depth to capture flowing tumor cells over large fields of view within optically-opaque biological tissues. Vast progress with the development of optoacoustic tomography technologies has recently enabled two- and three-dimensional imaging at unprecedented frame rates in the order of hundreds of Hertz, effectively mapping up to a million image voxels within a single volumetric snapshot. Herein, we employ volumetric optoacoustic tomography for real-time visualization of passage and trapping of individual B16 melanoma cells in the whole mouse brain. Detection of individual circulating melanoma cells was facilitated by substituting blood with an artificial cerebrospinal fluid that removes the strong absorption background in the optoacoustic images. The approach can provide new opportunities for studying trafficking and accumulation of metastatic melanoma cells in different organs.

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