BACKGROUND: Optoacoustic tomography (OT) of breast tumour oxygenation is a promising new technique, currently in clinical trials, which may help to determine disease stage and therapeutic response. However, the ability of OT to distinguish breast tumours displaying different vascular characteristics has yet to be established. The aim of the study is to prove OT as a sensitive technique for differentiating breast tumour models with manifestly different vasculatures.

METHODS: Multispectral OT (MSOT) was performed in oestrogen-dependent (MCF-7) and oestrogen-independent (MDA-MB-231) orthotopic breast cancer xenografts. Total haemoglobin (THb) and oxygen saturation (SO2MSOT) were calculated. Pathological and biochemical evaluation of the tumour vascular phenotype was performed for validation.

RESULTS: MCF-7 tumours show SO2MSOT similar to healthy tissue in both rim and core, despite significantly lower THb in the core. MDA-MB-231 tumours show markedly lower SO2MSOT with a significant rim-core disparity. Ex vivo analysis revealed that MCF-7 tumours contain fewer blood vessels (CD31+) that are more mature (CD31+/aSMA+) than MDA-MB-231. MCF-7 presented higher levels of stromal VEGF and iNOS, with increased NO serum levels. The vasculogenic process observed in MCF-7 was consistent with angiogenesis, while MDA-MB-231 appeared to rely more on vascular mimicry.

CONCLUSIONS: OT is sensitive to differences in the vascular phenotypes of our breast cancer models.