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Fireflies in the Coalmine: Luciferase Technologies in Next-Generation Toxicity Testing

[ Vol. 14 , Issue. 8 ]


Steven O. Simmons   Pages 688 - 702 ( 15 )


Whole-animal studies have been the mainstay of toxicity testing for decades. These approaches are too expensive and laborious to effectively characterize all of the chemicals currently in commercial use. In addition, there are social and ethical pressures to reduce, refine and replace animal testing in toxicology. The National Research Council (NRC) has outlined a new strategy to transition from animal-based tests to high throughput, cell-based assays and computational modeling approaches to characterize chemical toxicants. Critical to this vision, assays that measure toxicity pathways associated with adverse health effects must be developed. Bioluminescent assays are particularly well suited to the demands of next-generation toxicity testing because they measure a wide range of biological activities in a quantitative and high throughput manner. This review describes the limitations of traditional, animal-based toxicity testing and discusses the current and developing uses of bioluminescent technologies in next-generation testing based on three general assay formats: luciferase-limited assays, ATP-limited assays and luciferin-limited assays.


High throughput Screening, luciferase, luminescence, reporter genes, toxicity testing, Fireflies, cell-based assays, ATP-limited assays, In vivo, Drug Discovery, Nuclear receptors


Integrated Systems Toxicology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, US EPA, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.

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