The firefly bioluminescence reaction has been exploited for in vivo optical imaging in life sciences. To develop highly sensitive bioluminescence imaging technology, many researchers have synthesized luciferin analogs and luciferase mutants. This chapter first discusses synthetic luciferin analogs and their structure–activity relationships at the luminescence wavelength of the firefly bioluminescence reaction. We then discuss the development of luciferin analogs that produce near-infrared (NIR) light. Since NIR light is highly permeable for biological tissues, NIR luciferin analogs might sensitively detect signals from deep biological tissues such as the brain and lungs. Finally, we introduce two NIR luciferin analogs (TokeOni and seMpai) and a newly developed bioluminescence imaging system (AkaBLI). TokeOni can detect single-cell signals in mouse tissue and luminescence signals from marmoset brain, whereas seMpai can detect breast cancer micro-metastasis. Both reagents are valid for in vivo bioluminescence imaging with high sensitivity.
Part of the book: Bioluminescence