Macrophages are one of the most functionally-diverse cell types with roles in innate immunity, homeostasis and disease making them attractive targets for diagnostics and therapy. Photo- or optoacoustics could provide non-invasive, deep tissue imaging with high resolution and allow to visualize the spatiotemporal distribution of macrophages in vivo. However, present macrophage labels focus on synthetic nanomaterials, frequently limiting their ability to combine both host cell viability and functionality with strong signal generation. Here, we present a homogentisic acid-derived pigment (HDP) for biocompatible intracellular labeling of macrophages with strong optoacoustic contrast efficient enough to resolve single cells against a strong blood background. We study pigment formation during macrophage differentiation and activation, and utilize this labeling method to track migration of pro-inflammatory macrophages in vivo with whole-body imaging. We expand the sparse palette of macrophage labels for in vivo optoacoustic imaging and facilitate research on macrophage functionality and behavior.

Leave a Reply