Significance: Photoacoustic imaging (PAI) enables the detection of blood hemoglobin (HB) concentration and oxygenation (sO2) with high contrast and resolution. Despite the heavy use of photoacoustically determined total hemoglobin (THb) and oxygenation (sO2) biomarkers in PAI research, their relationship with underlying biochemical blood parameters and the impact of intra- and interspecies genetic variability have yet to be established.
Aim: To explore the relationship between THb and sO2 photoacoustic biomarkers and the underlying biochemical blood parameters in a species-specific manner.
Approach: Experiments were performed on blood in vitro using tissue-mimicking agar phantoms. Blood was extracted from mouse, rat, human, and naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber), anticoagulated in ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, and measured within 48 h. THb and sO2 were measured using a commercial photoacoustic tomography system (InVision 128, iThera Medical GmBH). Biochemical blood parameters such as HB concentration (g/dL), hematocrit (HCT, %), and red blood cell (RBC) count (μL – 1) were assessed using a hematology analyzer (Mythic 18 Vet, Woodley Equipment).
Results: A significant correlation was observed between THb and biochemical HB, HCT, and RBC in mouse and rat blood. Moreover, PAI accurately recapitulated interspecies variations in HB and HCT between mouse and rat blood and resolved differences in the oxygen dissociation curves measured using sO2 between human, mouse, and rat. With these validation data in hand, we applied PAI to studies of blood obtained from naked mole-rats and could confirm the high oxygen affinity of this species in comparison to other rodents of similar size.
Conclusions: Our results demonstrate the high sensitivity of photoacoustically determined hemoglobin biomarkers toward species-specific variations in vitro.

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