ATP-Independent Bioluminescent Reporters for in Vivo Imaging

Friday, August 23, 2019 -
2:00pm to 3:00pm
The FUNG Auditorium
Hui-wang Ai


Associate Professor with tenure, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics, School of Medicine, University of Virginia;

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Department of Biomedical Engineering; 

Resident faculty member of the Center for Membrane and Cell Physiology; Member of the University of Virginia Cancer Center

ATP-Independent Bioluminescent Reporters for in Vivo Imaging


To date, bioluminescent reporters used in laboratories are mostly derivatives of two major luciferase families: ATP-dependent insect luciferases and ATP-independent marine luciferases. Despite that ATP-dependent luciferase-luciferin pairs have been widely used for in vivo bioluminescence imaging (BLI), they consume ATP for photon production and this metabolic disruption issue cannot be addressed by simply improving ATP-dependent bioluminescent reporters. Moreover, any bioluminescent biosensors derived from ATP-dependent luciferase-luciferin pairs are also intrinsically ATP-dependent. On the other hand, ATP-independent marine luciferase-luciferin pairs, such as NanoLuc-furimazine, have found broad applications in vitro, but they are far from optimal for in vivo BLI due to their blue emission and low photon penetration depth in tissue, poor substrate solubility and stability, and/or low substrate permeability through the blood-brain barrier (BBB). My talk will discuss our recent progress in the development of ATP-independent luciferase-luciferin pairs with greatly enhanced biocompatibility, robustness, and in vitro and in vivo sensitivity.


Dr. Ai received his B.S. degree from Tsinghua University in 2003 and Ph.D. degree from the University of Alberta in 2008 (advisor: Robert E. Campbell). He received his postdoctoral training from 2008 to 2011 in the lab of Peter G. Schultz at The Scripps Research Institute. He then became an assistant professor at the University of California, Riverside. In 2017, he moved to the University of Virginia (UVA) Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics as a tenured associate professor. He is a resident faculty member of the Center for Membrane and Cell Physiology. He is also affiliated with the Departments of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering, and the UVA Cancer Center. His lab uses interdisciplinary approaches in chemistry, engineering, biophysics, and physiology to study and manipulate complex biological systems, with a focus on the development of novel molecular biosensors to peer into cells and brains to understand their communications. Dr. Ai received the Hellman Fellows Award in 2013, the National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2014, and the American Chemical Society Toxicology Young Investigators Award in 2017.