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Understanding immune cell trafficking patterns via in vivo bioluminescence imaging.

Mandl, S., Schimmelpfennig, C., Edinger, M., Negrin, R.S. and Contag, C.H.

Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, 87(S39), 239-248 (2002).

Cell migration is a key aspect of the development of the immune system and mediating an immune response. There is extensive and continual redistribution of cells to different anatomic sites throughout the body. These trafficking patterns control immune function, tissue regeneration, and host responses to insult. The ability to monitor the fate and function of cells, therefore, is imperative to both understanding the role of specific cells in disease processes and to devising rational therapeutic strategies. Determining the fate of immune cells and understanding the functional changes associated with migration and proliferation require effective means of obtaining in vivo measurements in the context of intact organ systems. A variety of imaging methods are available to provide structural information, such as X-ray CT and MRI, but only recently new tools have been developed that reveal cellular and molecular changes as they occur within living animals. We have pioneered one of these techniques that is based on the observations that light passes through mammalian tissues, and that luciferases can serve as internal biological sources of light in the living body. This method, called in vivo bioluminescence imaging, is a rapid and noninvasive functional imaging method that employs light-emitting reporters and external photon detection to follow biological processes in living animals in real time. This imaging strategy enables the studies of trafficking patterns for a variety of cell types in live animal models of human biology and disease. Using this approach we have elucidated the spatiotemporal trafficking patterns of lymphocytes within the body. In models of autoimmune disease we have used the migration of "pathogenic" immune cells to diseased tissues as a means to locally deliver and express therapeutic proteins, Similarly, we have determined the tempo of NK-T cell migration to neoplastic lesions and measured their life span in vivo. Using bioluminescence imaging individual groups of animals can be followed over time significantly reducing the number of animals per experiment, and improving the statistical significance of a study since changes in a given population can be studied over time. Such rapid assays that reveal cell fates in vivo will increase our basic understanding of the molecular signals that control these migratory pathways and will substantially speed up the development and evaluation of therapies.