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Molecular Imaging

Molecular imaging is broadly defined as the characterization and measurement of biological processes in living animals, model systems and humans at the cellular and molecular level, using remote imaging detection methods, such as PET/SPECT, MRI and optical imaging (bioluminescence, fluorescence). The field of molecular imaging comprises two overall strategies: the conventional approach, injectable agents; and a newer approach, genetically-encoded reporters. The overall goal is to advance our understanding of biology and medicine through noninvasive in vivo investigation of gene expression and molecular interactions in the context of the whole organism.
Genetically-encoded imaging reporters introduced into cells and transgenic animals enable noninvasive, longitudinal studies of dynamic biological processes in intact cells and living animals. The most common reporters include firefly luciferase (bioluminescence imaging), green fluorescence protein (fluorescence imaging), Herpes simplex virus-1 thymidine kinase (positron emission tomography) and variants with enhanced spectral and kinetic properties optimized for use in vivo. When cloned into promoter/enhancer sequences or engineered into fusion proteins, imaging reporters enable fundamental processes such as transcriptional regulation, signal transduction cascades, protein-protein interactions, oncogenic transformation, cell trafficking and targeted drug action to be temporally and spatially registered in vivo.
Spying on biology with both injectable or genetically-encoded imaging reporters provides new insight into target-specific molecular and regulatory machinery within the contextual environment of the whole animal.
 
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