Fluorescence sampling of cellular function is widely used in all aspects of biology, allowing the visualization of cellular and sub-cellular biological processes with spatial resolutions in the range from nanometers up to centimeters. Imaging of fluorescence in vivo has become the most commonly used radiological tool in all pre-clinical work. In the last decade, full-body pre-clinical imaging systems have emerged with a wide range of utilities and niche application areas. The range of fluorescent probes that can be excited in the visible to near-infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum continues to expand, with the most value for in vivo use being beyond the 630 nm wavelength, because the absorption of light sharply decreases. Whole-body in vivo fluorescence imaging has not yet reached a state of maturity that allows its routine use in the scope of large-scale pre-clinical studies. This is in part due to an incomplete understanding of what the actual fundamental capabilities and limitations of this imaging modality are. However, progress is continuously being made in research laboratories pushing the limits of the approach to consistently improve its performance in terms of spatial resolution, sensitivity and quantification. This paper reviews this imaging technology with a particular emphasis on its potential uses and limitations, the required instrumentation, and the possible imaging geometries and applications. A detailed account of the main commercially available systems is provided as well as some perspective relating to the future of the technology development. Although the vast majority of applications of in vivo small animal imaging are based on epi-illumination planar imaging, the future success of the method relies heavily on the design of novel imaging systems based on state-of-the-art optical technology used in conjunction with high spatial resolution structural modalities such as MRI, CT or ultrasound.
Published by Elsevier B.V.