Photoacoustic imaging of mesenchymal stem cells in living mice via silica-coated gold nanorods

ACS Nano. 2012 Jul 24;6(7):5920-30. doi: 10.1021/nn302042y. Epub 2012 Jun 20.


Improved imaging modalities are critically needed for optimizing stem cell therapy. Techniques with real-time content to guide and quantitate cell implantation are especially important in applications such as musculoskeletal regenerative medicine. Here, we report the use of silica-coated gold nanorods as a contrast agent for photoacoustic imaging and quantitation of mesenchymal stem cells in rodent muscle tissue. The silica coating increased the uptake of gold into the cell more than 5-fold, yet no toxicity or proliferation changes were observed in cells loaded with this contrast agent. Pluripotency of the cells was retained, and secretome analysis indicated that only IL-6 was disregulated more than 2-fold from a pool of 26 cytokines. The low background of the technique allowed imaging of down to 100,000 cells in vivo. The spatial resolution is 340 μm, and the temporal resolution is 0.2 s, which is at least an order of magnitude below existing cell imaging approaches. This approach has significant advantages over traditional cell imaging techniques like positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance imaging including real time monitoring of stem cell therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipogenesis
  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Contrast Media
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Gold
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cell Transplantation / methods
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / cytology*
  • Mesenchymal Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology
  • Nanotechnology
  • Nanotubes / chemistry*
  • Nanotubes / toxicity
  • Nanotubes / ultrastructure
  • Osteogenesis
  • Photoacoustic Techniques / methods*
  • Silicon Dioxide


  • Contrast Media
  • Gold
  • Silicon Dioxide