Live-Cell Imaging

Live-cell imaging is the study of living cells using images acquired by time-lapse microscopy. It is becoming a requisite technique in many fields of life science and biomedical research, such as cell biology, developmental biology and cancer biology, as well as in drug discovery.

Live-cell imaging assays can be broadly divided into three categories:

  • Live-cell end-point assays – cells are incubated for a specific period of time followed by acquisition of a single image
  • Live-cell kinetic assays – cells are incubated and images acquired periodically over a time-course
  • Live-cell fast response assay - cells are incubated and a compound or modulator is dispensed into the wells shortly before imaging.

Advantages of live-cell imaging

Live-cell imaging enables researchers to study dynamic cellular processes, behavior and function in real time and over time, thereby giving a more realistic view of biological function.

Live-cell imaging is also helpful when the endpoint of the assay is unknown, e.g. when analyzing long-term toxic drug effects. Depending on the type of question being asked, it may also be beneficial to avoid fixation reagents, as they influence the sample in an uncontrolled way and may change protein localization, e.g. when studying protein trafficking.

Kinetic live-cell imaging  avoids the need to prepare a separate sample for every time point to be analyzed - a single sample can be analyzed over time. 

Furthermore,  single-cell tracking software allows scientists to follow individual cells over time even as they divide. As a result, dynamic processes or effects that might have been overlooked when studying the whole cell population, can be seen and studied at a single cell level.

Challenges of kinetic live-cell imaging

A major challenge of kinetic live-cell imaging is keeping cells alive and functioning as naturally as possible for the duration of the experiment – usually days or weeks. Cells require incubation under controlled environmental conditions, such as temperature, CO2 and humidity, with minimal disruption throughout the experiment to avoid inducing stress responses that might alter the cellular processes being studied.

Also, as cells are typically not exposed to light during their natural life cycle, it’s important in imaging applications to minimize light exposure to reduce phototoxicity and photobleaching.

With well-designed systems, live-cell assays allow research biologists and drug discovery scientists to discover more, achieve greater understanding and provide the confidence and reassurance that their results are true to life.

Solutions for live-cell imaging

Today live-cell imaging assays can be performed using instruments designed specifically for this purpose, as well as with high-content screening systems.

PerkinElmer’s dedicated live-cell imaging system, MuviCyte, fits inside an incubator, enabling long term observations under optimal conditions over several days or weeks.

Our high-content screening systems, Opera Phenix Plus and Operetta CLS have the flexibility to run live-cell assays, combining the benefits of observing live-cells over time with the quantitative, multiparametric data analysis required in drug discovery programs. In addition, the Opera Phenix Plus system is equipped with fast frame rate imaging and has the option of on-board liquid handling to enable “dispense and read” live-cell fast response assays.

Featured Live Cell Imaging Products

MuviCyte Live-Cell Imaging Kit

The MuviCyte live-cell imaging system is designed to operate inside your cell-culture incubator, enabling you to maintain your cells under optimal conditions an ...

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Operetta CLS High-Content Analysis System

Uncover deep biological understanding in your everyday assays and innovative applications using the Operetta CLS™ high-content analysis system. Featuring a uniq ...

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Opera Phenix Plus High-Content Screening System

The Opera Phenix® Plus High Content Screening System is the premier confocal solution for today's most demanding high content applications. Drawing on over a de ...

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