A recent study showed that ferritin is a suitable endogenous contrast agent for photoacoustic molecular imaging in cultured mammalian cells. We have therefore tested whether this imaging technique can be used for in vivo quantification of iron in mouse livers. To verify this hypothesis, we used multispectral optoacoustic tomography (MSOT) to image albino CD1 mice before and after experimental iron loading. Postmortem assays showed that the iron treatment caused a 15-fold increase in liver iron and a 40-fold increase in liver ferritin levels, while in vivo longitudinal analysis using MSOT revealed just a 1.6-fold increase in the ferritin/iron photoacoustic signal in the same animals. We conclude that MSOT can monitor changes in ferritin/iron levels in vivo, but its sensitivity is much lower than that of ex vivo iron assays.

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