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Coumarin Luciferins and Mutant Luciferases for Bioluminescence Imaging

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Researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and NCI seek licensing for a new family of far-red to near-infrared emission coumarin-based luciferins (CouLuc) with complementary mutant enzymes.
NIH Reference Number
Product Type
  • Luciferins, Luciferases, CouLuc, Near-Infrared, NIR, Optical Imaging, Schnermann
Collaboration Opportunity
This invention is available for licensing and co-development.
Description of Technology

Bioluminescence imaging with luciferin-luciferase pairs is a well-established technique for tracking cells and other biological features in animal models. Bioluminescent is a chemical process which does not require an external input for excitation. Bioluminescent imaging is often limited to monitoring single processes in vivo due to the lack of distinguishable probes. Additionally, existing probes typically operate with light in the visible range, which is highly scattered and exhibits poor tissue penetration. 

To address these issues, researchers at UCI and NCI synthesized a new family of coumarin-based luciferins (CouLuc) with complementary mutant enzymes that exhibit far-red to near-infrared emission. This novel shift in emission opens the possibility of pairing with commercial luciferin-luciferase probes to form multicomponent systems. Additionally, far-red to near-infrared emission enables imaging at greater depths in live animals. Based on commercial courmarin precursors, these CouLuc scaffolds can be prepared in a straightforward two-step sequence. The resulting CouLuc with luciferase mutants provides stable substrate-selective luciferases with robust light emission. Overall, these probes are poised to advance the scope of bioluminescence imaging to more complex biological problems.

Researchers at UCI and NCI seek licensing to adopt new applications for this family of far-red to near-infrared emission coumarin-based luciferins (CouLuc) with complementary mutant enzymes. 

Potential Commercial Applications
  • Live animal imaging 
  • Multicomponent imaging when combined with commercial luciferin-luciferase pairs
  • Enhanced bioluminescence imaging


Competitive Advantages
  • Distinct from existing luciferin-luciferase pair due to their emission of far-red to near-red light
  • Superior tissue penetration 
  • Greater depth and resolution  
  • Enhancement of a variety of current bioluminescence imaging applications
  • Ability to quickly produce significant quantities of the novel CouLucs probes



Martin Schnermann Ph.D. (CCR NCI), Donald R Cladwell Ph.D (CCR NCI), Jennifer A Prescher (UCI), Zi Yao (UCI)

Development Stage
  • Yao Z, et al. Coumarin luciferins and mutant luciferases for robust multicomponent bioluminescence imaging. 
Patent Status
  • U.S. Provisional: U.S. Provisional Patent Application Number 63/184,432 , Filed 05 May 2021
Therapeutic Area
Thursday, September 23, 2021