Current advances in molecular imaging: noninvasive in vivo bioluminescent and fluorescent optical imaging in cancer research

Mol Imaging. 2003 Oct;2(4):303-12. doi: 10.1162/153535003322750646.


Recently, there has been tremendous interest in developing techniques such as MRI, micro-CT, micro-PET, and SPECT to image function and processes in small animals. These technologies offer deep tissue penetration and high spatial resolution, but compared with noninvasive small animal optical imaging, these techniques are very costly and time consuming to implement. Optical imaging is cost-effective, rapid, easy to use, and can be readily applied to studying disease processes and biology in vivo. In vivo optical imaging is the result of a coalescence of technologies from chemistry, physics, and biology. The development of highly sensitive light detection systems has allowed biologists to use imaging in studying physiological processes. Over the last few decades, biochemists have also worked to isolate and further develop optical reporters such as GFP, luciferase, and cyanine dyes. This article reviews the common types of fluorescent and bioluminescent optical imaging, the typical system platforms and configurations, and the applications in the investigation of cancer biology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Endopeptidases / analysis
  • Endopeptidases / metabolism
  • Fluorescence
  • Genetic Therapy / methods
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Humans
  • Luminescent Measurements*
  • Luminescent Proteins / analysis
  • Luminescent Proteins / genetics
  • Luminescent Proteins / metabolism
  • Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Optics and Photonics*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Luminescent Proteins
  • fluorescent protein 583
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Endopeptidases