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Imaging tumor angiogenesis with fluorescent proteins

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Hoffman. Imaging tumor angiogenesis with fluorescent proteins. APMIS 2004;112:441–9.

We have developed three unique mouse models to image angiogenesis with fluorescent proteins, which are described in this review. First, we have adapted the surgical orthotopic implantation (SOI) model to image angiogenesis of human tumors labeled with green fluorescent protein (GFP) transplanted in nude mice. The nonluminous induced capillaries are clearly visible by contrast against the very bright tumor fluorescence examined either intravitally or by whole-body imaging in real time. Intravital images of an SOI model of human pancreatic tumors expressing GFP visualized angiogenic capillaries at both primary and metastatic sites. Whole-body optical imaging showed that blood vessel density increased linearly over a 20-week period in an SOI model of human breast cancer expressing GFP. Opening a reversible skin-flap in the light path markedly reduces signal attenuation, increasing detection sensitivity many-fold and enabling vessels to be externally visualized in GFP-expressing tumors growing on internal organs. The second model utilizes dual-color fluorescence imaging, effected by using red fluorescent protein (RFP)-expressing tumors growing in GFP-expressing transgenic mice that express GFP in all cells. This dual-color model visualizes with great clarity the details of the tumor-stroma interaction, especially tumor-induced angiogenesis. The GFP-expressing tumor vasculature, both nascent and mature, are readily distinguished interacting with the RFP-expressing tumor cells. Using a spectral imaging system based on liquid crystal tunable filters, we were able to separate individual spectral species on a pixel-by-pixel basis. Such techniques non-invasively visualized the presence of host GFP-expressing vessels within an RFP-labeled orthotopic human breast tumor by real-time whole-body imaging. The third model involves a transgenic mouse in which the regulatory elements of the stem cell marker nestin drive GFP. The nestin-GFP mouse expresses GFP in areas of the brain, hair follicle stem cells, and in a network of blood vessels in the skin interconnecting hair follicles. RFP-expressing tumors transplanted to nestin-GFP mice enable specific visualization of nascent vessels in skin-growing tumors such as melanoma. Thus, fluorescent proteins expressed in vivo offer very high resolution and sensitivity for real-time imaging of angiogenesis.
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Keywords: Green fluorescent protein; imaging; in vivo; multi-color; real-time; red fluorescent protein

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2004

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