Molecular imaging of the skeleton: Quantitative real-time bioluminescence monitoring gene expression in bone repair and development

Iris Bar, Yoram Zilberman, Eveline Zeira, Eithan Galun, Alik Honigman, Gadi Turgeman, Thomas Clemens, Zulma Gazit, Dan Gazit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Monitoring gene expression in vivo, noninvasively, is a critical issue in effective gene therapy systems. To date, there are no adequate molecular imaging techniques, which quantitatively monitor gene expression in vivo in skeletal development and repair. The aim of this study was to monitor gene expression in skeletal development and repair, using a real-time molecular imaging system, which quantitatively and noninvasively detects bioluminescence in vivo. Our experimental model consisted of transgenic mice harboring the luciferase marker gene under the regulation of the human osteocalcin (hOC) promoter. A new light detection cooled charge coupled device (CCCD) camera was applied to monitor luciferase expression. In vitro, mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) isolated from bone marrow of transgenic mice exhibited hOC promoter regulation, detected by luciferase expression that correlated with their osteogenic differentiation. During development from 1 week to 1.5 years, transgenic mice exhibited transgene expression in a wide spectrum of skeletal organs, including calvaria, vertebra, tail, and limbs, reaching a peak at 1 week in most of the skeletal organs. In two skeletal repair models, bone fracture and marrow ablation, the noninvasive CCCD system revealed a peak of luciferase expression at 6 days postsurgery. All quantitative, noninvasive, real-time CCCD measurements correlated with a luciferase biochemical assay and luciferase immunohistochemistry, which demonstrated luciferase expression in hypertrophic chondrocytes and trabecular osteoblasts. Our studies show for the first time (1) the CCCD detection system is a reliable quantitative gene detection tool for the skeleton in vivo, (2) expression of luciferase regulated by the hOC promoter is significantly decreased with age in most skeletal sites, and (3) the dynamics of hOC regulation during mice skeletal development and repair in real time, quantitatively and noninvasively.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)570-578
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Bone and Mineral Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Bioluminescence
  • Bone development
  • Cooled charge coupled device imaging
  • Fracture healing
  • Gene expression
  • Luciferase
  • Osteocalcin promoter
  • Transgenic mice


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