Photoacoustic imaging is a novel hybrid imaging modality combining the high spatial resolution of optical imaging with the high penetration depth of ultrasound imaging. Here, for the first time, we evaluate the efficacy of various photosensitizers that are widely used as photodynamic therapeutic (PDT) agents as photoacoustic contrast agents. Photoacoustic imaging of photosensitizers exhibits advantages over fluorescence imaging, which is prone to photobleaching and autofluorescence interference. In this work, we examined the photoacoustic activity of 5 photosensitizers: zinc phthalocyanine, protoporphyrin IX, 2,4-bis [4-(N,N-dibenzylamino)-2,6-dihydroxyphenyl] squaraine, chlorin e6 and methylene blue in phantoms, among which zinc phthalocyanine showed the highest photoacoustic activity. Subsequently, we evaluated its tumor localization efficiency and biodistribution at multiple time points in a murine model using photoacoustic imaging. We observed that the probe localized at the tumor within 10 minutes post injection, reaching peak accumulation around 1 hour and was cleared within 24 hours, thus, demonstrating the potential of photosensitizers as photoacoustic imaging contrast agents in vivo. This means that the known advantages of photosensitizers such as preferential tumor uptake and PDT efficacy can be combined with photoacoustic imaging capabilities to achieve longitudinal monitoring of cancer progression and therapy in vivo.

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