Gold nanoparticles (GNP) have been intensively investigated for applications in cancer imaging and therapy. Most imaging studies focused on microscopic imaging. Their potential as optical imaging probes for whole body small animal imaging has rarely been explored. Taking advantage of their surface plasmon resonance (SPR) properties, we aim to develop a noninvasive diffuse optical imaging method to map the distribution of a special type of GNP, gold nanorods (GNR), in small animals. We developed an integrated dual-modality imaging system capable of both X-ray computed tomography (XCT) and diffuse optical tomography (DOT). XCT provides the animal anatomy and contour required for DOT; DOT maps the distribution of GNR in the animal. This SPR enhanced optical imaging (SPROI) technique was investigated using simulation, phantom and mouse experiments. The distribution of GNR at various concentrations (0.1-100 nM, or 3.5 ug/g-3.5 mg/g) was successfully reconstructed from centimeter-scaled volumes. SPROI detected GNR at 18 μg/g concentration in the mouse breast tumor, and is 3 orders more sensitive than X-ray imaging. This study demonstrated the high sensitivity of SPROI in mapping GNR distributions in small animals. It does not require additional imaging tags other than GNR themselves. SPROI can be used to detect tumors targeted by GNR via passive targeting based on enhanced permeability and retention or via active targeting using biologically conjugated ligands.
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