Efficient photoacoustic imaging using indocyanine green (ICG) loaded functionalized mesoporous silica nanoparticles†
Photoacoustic (PA) imaging is gaining momentum due to its greater depth of field, low background, and 3D imaging capabilities. However, traditional PA imaging agents (e.g. dyes, quantum dots, etc.) are usually unstable in plasma and bind to serum proteins, and thus cleared rapidly. Because of this, the nanoparticle encapsulation of PA imaging agents is becoming increasingly popular. Therefore, the rational design of carrier nanoparticles for this purpose is necessary for strong imaging signal intensity, high biosafety, and precise targeting. Herein, we systematically evaluate the influence of the chemical and physical surface functionalization of mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) on the photo-stability, loading, release, and photoacoustic (PA) signal strength of the FDA approved small molecule contrast agent, indocyanine green (ICG). Chemical functionalization involved the modification of MSNs with silanes having amine (NH2) or phosphonate (PO3) terminal groups, whereas physical modifications were performed by capping the ICG loaded MSNs with lipid bilayer (LB) or layer-by-layer (LBL) polyelectrolyte coatings. The NH2-MSNs display the highest ICG mass loading capacity (16.5 wt%) with a limited release of ICG (5%) in PBS over 48 h, while PO3-MSNs only loaded ICG around 3.5 wt%. The physically modified MSNs (i.e. LBMSNs and LBLMSNs) were vacuum loaded resulting in approximately 9 wt% loading and less than 10% ICG release in 48 h. Pure ICG was highly photo-unstable and showed 20% reduction in photoluminescence (PL) within 3 h of exposure to 800 nm, while the ICG loaded onto functionalized MSNs did not photo-degrade. Among the tested formulations, NH2-MSNs and LBLMSNs presented 4-fold in vitro PA signal intensity enhancement at a 200 μg mL−1 equivalent ICG dose. Similar to the in vitro PA imaging, NH2-MSNs and LBLMSNs performed the best when subcutaneously injected into mouse cadavers with 1.29- and 1.43-fold PA signal enhancement in comparison to the pure ICG, respectively.