Serial imaging of human embryonic stem-cell engraftment and teratoma formation in live mouse models

Martin G. Pomper, Holly Hammond, Xiaobing Yu, Zhaohui Ye, Catherine A. Foss, Doris D. Lin, James J. Fox, Linzhao Cheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two new types of lentiviral vectors expressing a reporter transgene encoding either firefly luciferase (fLuc) for bioluminescence imaging or the HSV1 thymidine kinase (HSV1-TK) for radiopharmaceutical-based imaging were constructed to monitor human embryonic stem cell (hESC) engraftment and proliferation in live mice after transplantation. The constitutive expression of either transgene did not alter the properties of hESCs in the culture. We next monitored the formation of teratomas in SCID mice to test (1) whether the gene-modified hESCs maintain their developmental pluripotency, and (2) whether sustained reporter gene expression allows noninvasive, whole-body imaging of hESC derivatives in a live mouse model. We observed teratoma formation from both types of gene-modified cells as well as wild-type hESCs 2-4 months after inoculation. Using an optical imaging system, bioluminescence from the fLuc-transduced hESCs was easily detected in mice bearing teratomas long before palpable tumors could be detected. To develop a noninvasive imaging method more readily translatable to the clinic, we also utilized HSV1-TK and its specific substrate, 1-(2′-deoxy-2′-fluoro-Β-D-arabinofuranosyl)-5-[ 125 I]iodouracil ([ 125 I]FIAU), as a reporter/probe pair. After systemic administration, [ 125 I]FIAU is phosphorylated only by the transgene-encoded HSV1-TK enzyme and retained within transduced (and transplanted) cells, allowing sensitive and quantitative imaging by single-photon emission computed tomography. Noninvasive imaging methods such as these may enable us to monitor the presence and distribution of transplanted human stem cells repetitively within live recipients over a long term through the expression of a reporter gene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)370-379
Number of pages10
JournalCell Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2009


  • ESCs
  • Optical imaging
  • PET
  • Pluripotent stem cells
  • Teratoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cell Biology


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