iRFP (near-infrared fluorescent protein) imaging of subcutaneous and deep tissue tumours in mice highlights differences between imaging platforms

Cancer Cell Int. 2021 May 3;21(1):247. doi: 10.1186/s12935-021-01918-8.


Background: In vivo imaging using fluorescence is used in cancer biology for the detection, measurement and monitoring of tumours. This can be achieved with the expression of fluorescent proteins such as iRFP, which emits light at a wavelength less attenuated in biological tissues compared to light emitted by other fluorescent proteins such as GFP or RFP. Imaging platforms capable of detecting fluorescent tumours in small animals have been developed but studies comparing the performance of these platforms are scarce.

Results: Through access to three platforms from Xenogen, Bruker and Li-Cor, we compared their ability to detect iRFP-expressing subcutaneous tumours as well as tumours localised deeper within the body of female NSG mice. Each platform was paired with proprietary software for image analyse, but the output depends on subjective decisions from the user. To more objectively compare platforms, we developed an 'in house' software-based approach which results in lower measured variability between mice.

Conclusions: Our comparisons showed that all three platforms allowed for reliable detection and monitoring of subcutaneous iRFP tumour growth. The biggest differences between platforms became apparent when imaging deeper tumours with the Li-Cor platform detecting most tumours and showing the highest dynamic range.

Keywords: IRFP; Imaging; Mice; Tumours.