In vivo bioluminescence imaging

Comp Med. 2004 Dec;54(6):631-4.


In vivo bioluminescent imaging (BLI) is a versatile and sensitive tool that is based on detection of light emission from cells or tissues. Bioluminescence, the biochemical generation of light by a living organism, is a naturally occurring phenomenon. Luciferase enzymes, such as that from the North American firefly (Photinus pyralis), catalyze the oxidation of a substrate (luciferin), and photons of light are a product of the reaction. Optical imaging by bioluminescence allows a low-cost, noninvasive, and real-time analysis of disease processes at the molecular level in living organisms. Bioluminescence has been used to track tumor cells, bacterial and viral infections, gene expression, and treatment response. Bioluminescence in vivo imaging allows longitudinal monitoring of a disease course in the same animal, a desirable alternative to analyzing a number of animals at many time points during the course of the disease. We provide a brief introduction to BLI technology, specific examples of in vivo BLI studies investigating bacterial/viral pathogenesis and tumor growth in animal models, and highlight some future perspectives of BLI as a molecular imaging tool.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diagnostic Imaging / methods*
  • Diagnostic Imaging / veterinary
  • Gene Expression
  • Infections / microbiology
  • Luciferases, Firefly / genetics
  • Luminescent Measurements / methods*
  • Luminescent Measurements / veterinary
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / therapy


  • luciferase, Photinus
  • Luciferases, Firefly