According to World Health Organization estimates, infectious organisms are responsible for approximately one in four deaths worldwide. Animal models play an essential role in the development of vaccines and therapeutic agents but large numbers of animals are required to obtain quantitative microbiological data by tissue sampling. Biophotonic imaging (BPI) is a highly sensitive, nontoxic technique based on the detection of visible light, produced by luciferase-catalysed reactions (bioluminescence) or by excitation of fluorescent molecules, using sensitive photon detectors. The development of bioluminescent/fluorescent microorganisms therefore allows the real-time noninvasive detection of microorganisms within intact living animals. Multiple imaging of the same animal throughout an experiment allows disease progression to be followed with extreme accuracy, reducing the number of animals required to yield statistically meaningful data. In the study of infectious disease, the use of BPI is becoming widespread due to the novel insights it can provide into established models, as well as the impact of the technique on two of the guiding principles of using animals in research, namely reduction and refinement. Here, we review the technology of BPI, from the instrumentation through to the generation of a photonic signal, and illustrate how the technique is shedding light on infection dynamics in vivo.
© 2010 Federation of European Microbiological Societies. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved.