Bacteria-mediated cancer-targeted therapy is a novel experimental strategy for the treatment of cancers. Bacteria can be engineered to overcome a major challenge of existing therapeutics by differentiating between malignant and healthy tissue. A prerequisite for further development and study of engineered bacteria is a suitable imaging concept which allows bacterial visualization in tissue and monitoring bacterial targeting and proliferation. Optoacoustics (OA) is an evolving technology allowing whole-tumor imaging and thereby direct observation of bacterial colonization in tumor regions. However, bacterial detection using OA is currently hampered by the lack of endogenous contrast or suitable transgene fluorescent labels. Here, we demonstrate improved visualization of cancer-targeting bacteria using OA imaging and E. coli engineered to express tyrosinase, which uses L-tyrosine as the substrate to produce the strong optoacoustic probe melanin in the tumor microenvironment. Tumors of animals injected with tyrosinase-expressing E. coli showed strong melanin signals, allowing to resolve bacterial growth in the tumor over time using multispectral OA tomography (MSOT). MSOT imaging of melanin accumulation in tumors was confirmed by melanin and E. coli staining. Our results demonstrate that using tyrosinase-expressing E. coli enables non-invasive, longitudinal monitoring of bacterial targeting and proliferation in cancer using MSOT.

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