Measuring prions by bioluminescence imaging

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Sep 1;106(35):15002-6. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0907339106. Epub 2009 Aug 17.


Prions are infectious proteins that cause fatal neurodegenerative diseases. Because astrocytic gliosis marked by the deposition of fibrils composed of GFAP is a prominent feature of prion disease, we asked whether GFAP might be used as a surrogate marker for prions. To interrogate this posit, we inoculated prions into transgenic (Tg) mice expressing luciferase (luc) under the GFAP gene (Gfap) promoter, denoted Tg(Gfap-luc) mice. Weekly noninvasive, bioluminescence imaging (BLI) detected an increase in light emitted from the brains of Tg(Gfap-luc) mice at approximately 55 d after inoculation and approximately 62 d before neurologic deficits appeared. To determine whether BLI could be used as a proxy bioassay for prion infectivity, we performed endpoint titrations of prions in Tg(Gfap-luc) mice. BLI bioassays were as or more sensitive than those determined by the onset of neurological dysfunction, and were completed in approximately half the time. Our studies argue that BLI is likely to be a suitable surrogate for measuring prion infectivity, and might be useful in the study of Tg mouse models for other neurodegenerative illnesses.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Luciferases / genetics
  • Luciferases / metabolism
  • Luminescent Measurements / methods*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Prion Diseases / metabolism*
  • Prion Diseases / pathology
  • Prions / analysis*
  • Prions / metabolism


  • Prions
  • Luciferases