Bioluminescent imaging: a critical tool in pre-clinical oncology research

J Pathol. 2010 Feb;220(3):317-27. doi: 10.1002/path.2656.


Bioluminescent imaging (BLI) is a non-invasive imaging modality widely used in the field of pre-clinical oncology research. Imaging of small animal tumour models using BLI involves the generation of light by luciferase-expressing cells in the animal following administration of substrate. This light may be imaged using an external detector. The technique allows a variety of tumour-associated properties to be visualized dynamically in living models. The increasing use of BLI as a small-animal imaging modality has led to advances in the development of xenogeneic, orthotopic, and genetically engineered animal models expressing luciferase genes. This review aims to provide insight into the principles of BLI and its applications in cancer research. Many studies to assess tumour growth and development, as well as efficacy of candidate therapeutics, have been performed using BLI. More recently, advances have also been made using bioluminescent imaging in studies of protein-protein interactions, genetic screening, cell-cycle regulators, and spontaneous cancer development. Such novel studies highlight the versatility and potential of bioluminescent imaging in future oncological research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Disease Progression
  • Luciferases / metabolism
  • Luminescent Measurements / methods*
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Metastasis
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / physiopathology
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / therapy


  • Luciferases