Ng KK, Shakiba M, Huynh E, Weersink R, Roxin A, Wilson BC & Zheng G
ACS Nano, 2014

Photoacoustic imaging provides high-resolution images at depths beyond the optical diffusion limit. To broaden its utility, there is need for molecular sensors capable of detecting environmental stimuli through alterations in photoacoustic signal. Photosynthetic organisms have evolved ingenious strategies to optimize light absorption through nanoscale ordered dye aggregation. Here, we use this concept to synthesize a stimuli-responsive nanoswitch with a large optical absorbance and sensing capabilities. Ordered dye aggregation between light-harvesting porphyrins was achieved through intercalation within thermoresponsive nanovesicles. This causes an absorbance red-shift of 74 nm and a 2.7-fold increase in absorptivity of the Qy-band, with concomitant changes in its photoacoustic spectrum. This spectral feature can be reversibly switched by exceeding a temperature threshold. Using this thermochromic property, we noninvasively determined a localized temperature change in vivo, relevant for monitoring thermal therapies of solid tumors. Similar strategies may be applied alongside photoacoustic imaging, to detect other stimuli such as pH and enzymatic activity.

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