A Real Time Metridia Luciferase Based Non-Invasive Reporter Assay of Mammalian Cell Viability and Cytotoxicity via the β-actin Promoter and Enhancer
Secreted reporter molecules offer a means to evaluate biological processes in real time without the need to sacrifice samples at pre-determined endpoints. Here we have adapted the secreted bioluminescent reporter gene, Metridia luciferase, for use in a real-time viability assay for mammalian cells. The coding region of the marine copepod gene has been codon optimized for expression in human cells (hMLuc) and placed under the control of the human β-actin promoter and enhancer. Metridia luciferase activity of stably transfected cell models corresponded linearly with cell number over a 4-log dynamic range, detecting as few as 40 cells. When compared to standard endpoint viability assays, which measure the mitochondrial dehydrogenase reduction of tetrazolium salts, the hMLuc viability assay had a broader linear range of detection, was applicable to large tissue culture vessels, and allowed the same sample to be repeatedly measured over several days. Additional studies confirmed that MLuc activity was inhibited by serum, but demonstrated that assay activity remained linear and was measurable in the serum of mice bearing subcutaneous hMLuc-expressing tumors. In summary, these comparative studies demonstrate the value of humanized Metridia luciferase as an inexpensive and non-invasive method for analyzing viable cell number, growth, tumor volume, and therapeutic response in real time.