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Which Reporter Gene to Use?

So you’ve decided to use noninvasive imaging, but where do you start? With the various reporter options available, how do you know which to choose? When selecting a reporter there are several factors to consider including the type of information you want to get as well as the equipment and resources available to you. Consider the following questions, or check out our reporter comparison chart below.

What degree of sensitivity is required?
What degree of resolution is required?
Does an immunocompetent model need to be used?
Do you need quantitative results?
What are the target tissues/organs?
Do you want imaging that is translatable to clinical?
What equipment and reagents are required?
How easy does your imaging need to be?
Have you considered multi-modality imaging?

General Conclusions:


Nuclear reporters tend to be the most versatile of the reporters and provide excellent imaging for a wide variety of applications. However, they require very specialized and expensive equipment and have a steeper learning curve than the optical reporters.

Comparison of Reporter Gene Imaging Modalities


Fluorescent Proteins (eGFP, DsRed)1 Near-infrared fluorescent protein (iRFP) Luciferase Tyrosinase NIS Nuclear Reporters
Modality Optical Optical Optical Photoacoustic Nuclear Nuclear
Recommended for small-animal imaging? No2 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Equipment Intravital microscope Optical imager with cooled CCD camera Optical imager with cooled CCD camera Photoacoustic imaging system SPECT or PET3 SPECT or PET3
Ease of use User friendly User friendly User friendly Training required Training required Training required
Recommended for large-animal imaging?  No  No  No  Yes  Yes  Yes
Sensitivity4 Best (in vitro) Good Best Great Excellent Excellent
Spatial resolution Superior (1-10 μm) Moderate (2-3 mm) Moderate (~ 5 mm) Superior (0.01-1 mm) Excellent (1-2 mm) Excellent (1-2 mm)
Depth of signal penetration < 1 cm 1 cm 1-2 cm < 5 cm Not limiting Not limiting
Quantitative Yes No Yes No Yes Yes
Clinically translatable? No No No No Yes Depends
Recommended for immunocompetent? No No No No Yes Some
Special considerations Produces melanin, which is toxic: inducible expression preferred Requires radioactive materials Requires radioactive materials
1Information reflects intravital microscopy not whole animal imaging, as whole animal imaging is not recommended.
2Fluorescent imaging in the standard visual range has very high background in animals due to autofluorescence. Therefore, fluorescent proteins are not recommended for use in whole animal imaging. However, fluorescent proteins are useful for multimodality imaging, as fluorescent signal can be used post-mortem to confirm imaging results. Alternatively, fluorescent proteins are good for intravital micscropy.
3Combining SPECT or PET imaging with computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance (MR) imaging gives the most informative results, as images can be co-registered to give anatomical localization of the radiotracer signal.
4Sensitivity depends on several factors including the amount of reporter expressed per cell and the depth of signal.

What people say about Imanis

Our group has, and continues to, use NIS as a noninvasive reporter for cell transplantation studies in mice and in pigs. Imanis has provided expert technical and analytical support for this research, and has allowed us to publish our research in high impact journals, including Science Translational Medicine..

– Dr. Raymond Hickey, Mayo Clinic

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