Applications of Bioluminescence Imaging to the Study of Infectious Diseases

Cell Microbiol. 2007 Oct;9(10):2315-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-5822.2007.00995.x. Epub 2007 Jun 24.


Bioluminescence imaging (BLI) has emerged as a powerful new method to analyse infectious diseases in animal models. BLI offers real-time monitoring of spatial and temporal progression of infection in the same animal, as opposed to euthanizing a cohort of animals and quantifying colony or plaque forming units at multiple time points. Pathogens or mice are engineered to express genetically encoded luciferase enzymes from bacteria, insects, or the sea pansy. The seminal study showing the feasibility of detecting microbially generated luminescence within a living mouse was published by Contag and colleagues in 1995, using Salmonella typhimurium transformed with the lux operon from Photorhabdus luminescens. Following this, they and others performed many studies of infection by bioluminescent Gram-negative and Gram-positive bacteria. Viruses can also be engineered to encode luciferase. Our laboratory has used bioluminescent reporter viruses to follow HSV and vaccinia pathogenesis; others have used an alphavirus or novirhabdovirus. Recently, even eukaryotic parasites Plasmodium, Leishmania and Toxoplasma have been transformed with luciferase and yielded unique insights into their in vivo behaviour. We expect that both the range of organisms and the molecular events able to be studied by BLI will continue to expand, yielding important insights into mechanisms of pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Communicable Diseases / metabolism*
  • Communicable Diseases / microbiology
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / genetics
  • Leishmania / genetics
  • Luciferases / biosynthesis
  • Luciferases / genetics*
  • Luminescent Measurements / instrumentation
  • Luminescent Measurements / methods*
  • Mice
  • Microbiological Techniques
  • Mycoses / metabolism*
  • Mycoses / microbiology
  • Parasitic Diseases / metabolism*
  • Parasitic Diseases / parasitology
  • Plasmodium / genetics
  • Toxoplasma / genetics
  • Virus Diseases / metabolism*
  • Virus Diseases / virology
  • Viruses / genetics


  • Luciferases