Rational design of a super-contrast NIR-II fluorophore affords high-performance NIR-II molecular imaging guided microsurgery
In vivo molecular imaging in the “transparent” near-infrared II (NIR-II) window has demonstrated impressive benefits in reaching millimeter penetration depths with high specificity and imaging quality. Previous NIR-II molecular imaging generally relied on high hepatic uptake fluorophores with an unclear mechanism and antibody-derived conjugates, suffering from inevitable nonspecific retention in the main organs/skin with a relatively low signal-to-background ratio. It is still challenging to synthesize a NIR-II fluorophore with both high quantum yield and minimal liver-retention feature. Herein, we identified the structural design and excretion mechanism of novel NIR-II fluorophores for NIR-II molecular imaging with an extremely clean background. With the optimized renally excreted fluorophore–peptide conjugates, superior NIR-II targeting imaging was accompanied by the improved signal-to-background ratio during tumor detection with reducing off-target tissue exposure. An unprecedented NIR-II imaging-guided microsurgery was achieved using such an imaging platform, which provides us with a great preclinical example to accelerate the potential clinical translation of NIR-II imaging.