Background: Gene promoters fused to the firefly luciferase gene (luc) are useful for examining gene regulation in live transgenic mice and they provide unique views of functioning organs. The dynamics of gene expression in cells and tissues expressing luciferase can be observed by imaging this enzyme's bioluminescent oxidation of luciferin. Neural pathways involved in specific behaviors have been identified by localizing expression of immediate-early genes such as c-fos. A transgenic mouse line with luc controlled by the human c-fos promoter (fos::luc) has enabled gene expression imaging in brain slice cultures. To optimize imaging of immediate-early gene expression throughout intact mice, the present study examined fos::luc mice and a second transgenic mouse containing luc controlled by the human cytomegalovirus immediate-early gene 1 promoter and enhancer (CMV::luc). Because skin pigments and hair can significantly scatter light from underlying structures, the two transgenic lines were crossed with a hairless albino mouse (HRS/J) to explore which deep structures could be imaged. Furthermore, live anesthetized mice were compared with overdosed mice. Results: Bioluminescence imaging of anesthetized mice over several weeks corresponded with expression patterns in mice imaged rapidly after a lethal overdose. Both fos::luc and CMV::luc mice showed quantifiable bright bioluminescence in ear, nose, paws, and tail whether they were anesthetized or overdosed. CMV::luc and fos::luc neonates had bioluminescence patterns similar to those of adults, although intensity was significantly higher in neonates. CMV::luc mice crossed with HRS/J mice had high expression in bone, claws, head, pancreas, and skeletal muscle, but less in extremities than haired CMV::luc mice. Imaging of brain bioluminescence through the neonatal skull was also practical. By imaging luciferin autofluorescence it was clear that substrate distribution did not restrict bioluminescence imaging to capillaries after injection. Luciferin treatment and anesthesia during imaging did not adversely affect circadian rhythms in locomotor activity. Conclusions: Imaging of gene expression patterns with luciferase can be extended from studies of live animals to rapid imaging of mice following a pentobarbital overdose before significant effects from postmortem changes occurs. Bioluminescent transgenic mice crossed with HRS/J mice are valuable for examining gene expression in deep tissues.
Geusz, Michael E. and Collaco, Anne M., "Monitoring Immediate-Early Gene Expression Through Firefly Luciferase Imaging of HRS/J Hairless Mice" (2003). Biological Sciences Faculty Publications. 2.