Optical imaging: bacteria, viruses, and mammalian cells encoding light-emitting proteins reveal the locations of primary tumors and metastases in animals

Anal Bioanal Chem. 2003 Nov;377(6):964-72. doi: 10.1007/s00216-003-2065-0. Epub 2003 Jul 19.


Early detection of tumors and their metastases is crucial for the prognosis of cancer treatment. Traditionally, tumor detection is achieved by various methods, including magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography. With the recent cloning, cellular expression, and real-time imaging of light-emitting proteins, such as Renilla luciferase (Ruc), bacterial luciferase (Lux), firefly luciferase (Luc), green fluorescent protein (GFP), or Ruc-GFP fusion protein, significant efforts have been focused on using these marker proteins for tumor detection. It has also been demonstrated that certain bacteria, viruses, and mammalian cells (BVMC), when administered systemically, are able to gain entry and replicate selectively in tumors. In addition, many tissue/tumor specific promoters have been cloned which allow transgene expression specifically in tumor tissues. Therefore, when light-emitting protein encoded BVMC are injected systemically into rodents, tumor-specific marker gene expression is achieved and is detected in real time based on light emission. Consequently, the locations of primary tumors and previously unknown metastases in animals are revealed in vivo. In the future it will likely be feasible to use engineered light-emitting BVMC as probes for tumor detection and as gene-delivery vehicles in vivo for cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacterial Physiological Phenomena*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Light*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / microbiology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / virology
  • Proteins* / genetics
  • Proteins* / metabolism
  • Virus Physiological Phenomena*


  • Proteins