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Bioluminescence imaging of leukemia cell lines in vitro and in mouse xenografts: effects of monoclonal and polyclonal cell populations on intensity and kinetics of photon emission

Sandra Christoph12, Jennifer Schlegel1, Francesca Alvarez-Calderon34, Yong-Mi Kim5, Luis N Brandao1, Deborah DeRyckere1 and Douglas K Graham1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pediatrics, University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine, 12800 E. 19th Ave., Aurora, CO, 80045, USA

2 Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation, University Hospital of Essen, Hufelandstr. 55, Essen, 45122, Germany

3 Integrated Department of Immunology, National Jewish Health, 1400 Jackson St, Denver, CO, 80206, USA

4 Medical Scientist Training Program, University of Colorado Denver, School of Medicine, 12800 E. 19th Ave., Aurora, CO, 80045, USA

5 Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, 4650 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA, 90027, USA

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Journal of Hematology & Oncology 2013, 6:10  doi:10.1186/1756-8722-6-10

Published: 23 January 2013



We investigated the utility of bioluminescence imaging (BLI) using firefly luciferase in monoclonal and polyclonal populations of leukemia cells in vitro and in vivo.


Monoclonal and polyclonal human lymphoid and myeloid leukemia cell lines transduced with firefly luciferase were used for BLI.


Kinetics and dynamics of bioluminescence signal were cell line dependent. Luciferase expression decreased significantly over time in polyclonal leukemia cells in vitro. Transplantation of polyclonal luciferase-tagged cells in mice resulted in inconsistent signal intensity. After selection of monoclonal cell populations, luciferase activity was stable, equal kinetic and dynamic of bioluminescence intensity and strong correlation between cell number and light emission in vitro were observed. We obtained an equal development of leukemia burden detected by luciferase activity in NOD-scid-gamma mice after transplantation of monoclonal populations.


The use of monoclonal leukemia cells selected for stable and equal luciferase activity is recommended for experiments in vitro and xenograft mouse models. The findings are highly significant for bioluminescence imaging focused on pre-clinical drug development.

Bioluminescence imaging; Monoclonal population; Polyclonal population; Firefly luciferase; Leukemia; Xenograft