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Open Access Highly Accessed Short communication

Luciferase expression and bioluminescence does not affect tumor cell growth in vitro or in vivo

Jessamy C Tiffen1, Charles G Bailey1, Cynthia Ng1, John EJ Rasko12 and Jeff Holst1*

Author Affiliations

1 Gene and Stem Cell Therapy Program, Centenary Institute, University of Sydney, Camperdown NSW 2050, Australia

2 Cell and Molecular Therapies, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown NSW 2050, Australia

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Molecular Cancer 2010, 9:299  doi:10.1186/1476-4598-9-299

Published: 22 November 2010


Live animal imaging is becoming an increasingly common technique for accurate and quantitative assessment of tumor burden over time. Bioluminescence imaging systems rely on a bioluminescent signal from tumor cells, typically generated from expression of the firefly luciferase gene. However, previous reports have suggested that either a high level of luciferase or the resultant light reaction produced upon addition of D-luciferin substrate can have a negative influence on tumor cell growth. To address this issue, we designed an expression vector that allows simultaneous fluorescence and luminescence imaging. Using fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS), we generated clonal cell populations from a human breast cancer (MCF-7) and a mouse melanoma (B16-F10) cell line that stably expressed different levels of luciferase. We then compared the growth capabilities of these clones in vitro by MTT proliferation assay and in vivo by bioluminescence imaging of tumor growth in live mice. Surprisingly, we found that neither the amount of luciferase nor biophotonic activity was sufficient to inhibit tumor cell growth, in vitro or in vivo. These results suggest that luciferase toxicity is not a necessary consideration when designing bioluminescence experiments, and therefore our approach can be used to rapidly generate high levels of luciferase expression for sensitive imaging experiments.