Inflammation is the phenotypic form of various diseases. Recent development in molecular imaging provides new insights into the diagnostic and therapeutic evaluation of different inflammatory diseases as well as diseases involving inflammation such as cancer. While conventional imaging techniques used in the clinical setting provide only indirect measures of inflammation such as increased perfusion and altered endothelial permeability, optical imaging is able to report molecular information on diseased tissue and cells. Optical imaging is a quick, noninvasive, nonionizing, and easy-to-use diagnostic technology which has been successfully applied for preclinical research. Further development of optical imaging technology such as optoacoustic imaging overcomes the limitations of mere fluorescence imaging, thereby enabling pilot clinical applications in humans. By means of endogenous and exogenous contrast agents, sites of inflammation can be accurately visualized in vivo. This allows for early disease detection and specific disease characterization, enabling more rapid and targeted therapeutic interventions. In this review, we summarize currently available optical imaging techniques used to detect inflammation, including optical coherence tomography (OCT), bioluminescence, fluorescence, optoacoustics, and Raman spectroscopy. We discuss advantages and disadvantages of the different in vivo imaging applications with a special focus on targeting inflammation including immune cell tracking.

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