Single-cell bioluminescence imaging of deep tissue in freely moving animals


Bioluminescence is a natural light source based on luciferase catalysis of its substrate luciferin. We performed directed evolution on firefly luciferase using a red-shifted and highly deliverable luciferin analog to establish AkaBLI, an all-engineered bioluminescence in vivo imaging system. AkaBLI produced emissions in vivo that were brighter by a factor of 100 to 1000 than conventional systems, allowing noninvasive visualization of single cells deep inside freely moving animals. Single tumorigenic cells trapped in the mouse lung vasculature could be visualized. In the mouse brain, genetic labeling with neural activity sensors allowed tracking of small clusters of hippocampal neurons activated by novel environments. In a marmoset, we recorded video-rate bioluminescence from neurons in the striatum, a deep brain area, for more than 1 year. AkaBLI is therefore a bioengineered light source to spur unprecedented scientific, medical, and industrial applications.

Science 23 Feb 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 935-939