Rapid volumetric in vivo visualization of circulating microparticles can facilitate new biomedical applications, such as blood flow characterization or targeted drug delivery. However, existing imaging modalities generally lack the sensitivity to detect the weak signals generated by individual micrometer-sized particles distributed across millimeter- to centimeter-scale depths in living mammalian tissues. Also, the temporal resolution is typically insufficient to track the particles in an entire three-dimensional region. Herein, we introduce a new type of monodisperse (4 μm) silica-core microparticle coated with a shell formed by a multilayered structure of carbon nanotubes (CNT) and gold nanoparticles (AuNP) to provide strong optoacoustic (OA) absorption-based contrast. We capitalize on the unique advantages of a state-of-the-art high-frame-rate OA tomography system to visualize and track the motion of these core-shell particles individually and volumetrically as they flow throughout the mouse brain vasculature. The feasibility of localizing individual solid particles smaller than red blood cells opens new opportunities for mapping the blood flow velocity, enhancing the resolution and visibility of OA images, and developing new biosensing assays.

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