Imaging gene expression in live transgenic mice after providing luciferin in drinking water

Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2006 Nov;5(11):1082-5. doi: 10.1039/b608360a. Epub 2006 Aug 25.


Mice expressing the firefly luciferase gene luc under the control of various gene promoters are used to image long-term changes in tumor growth, infection, development, and circadian rhythms. This novel approach enables ongoing regulation of gene expression to be visualized through repeated imaging of luciferase bioluminescence. Typically, luciferin, the luciferase substrate, is injected into mice before they are anaesthetized for imaging. To avoid the effects of handling and stress from injection on expression of the transgene, oral luciferin delivery methods were tested as an alternative to current methods. For unobscured imaging, a transgenic mouse line containing luc controlled by the enhancer and promoter for the major immediate-early gene of human cytomegalovirus (CMV) was crossed with a hairless albino mouse stock (HRS/J), resulting in the Hr-CMV line. Mice given food and water ad libitum readily drank 1-5 mM luciferin in water or apple juice and could be imaged repeatedly on subsequent days without any apparent adverse effects. Oral and injected luciferin produced similar patterns of luminescence in the body areas examined: abdomen, tail vertebrae, gonads, hind leg, foreleg and others, although the tail showed a slightly brighter relative luminescence after oral luciferin. These results show that luciferin is not appreciably degraded in the digestive tract and can be easily administered orally to avoid injection and any concomitant effects on behavior that could alter gene expression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Firefly Luciferin / administration & dosage*
  • Gene Expression*
  • Luminescence
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Water Supply*


  • Firefly Luciferin