Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Edward S. Yeung


The purpose of this research was to expand the chemiluminescence microscopy applications in live bacterial/mammalian cell imaging and to improve the detection sensitivity for ATP leaking or release events.

We first demonstrated that chemiluminescence (CL) imaging can be used to interrogate single bacterial cells. While using a luminometer allows detecting ATP from cell lysate extracted from at least 10 bacterial cells, all previous cell CL detection never reached this sensitivity of single bacteria level. We approached this goal with a different strategy from before: instead of breaking bacterial cell membrane and trying to capture the transiently diluted ATP with the firefly luciferase CL assay, we introduced the firefly luciferase enzyme into bacteria using the modern genetic techniques and placed the CL reaction substrate D-luciferin outside the cells. By damaging the cell membrane with various antibacterial drugs including antibiotics such as Penicillins and bacteriophages, the D-luciferin molecules diffused inside the cell and initiated the reaction that produces CL light. As firefly luciferases are large protein molecules which are retained within the cells before the total rupture and intracellular ATP concentration is high at the millmolar level, the CL reaction of firefly luciferase, ATP and D-luciferin can be kept for a relatively long time within the cells acting as a reaction container to generate enough photons for detection by the extremely sensitive intensified charge coupled device (ICCD) camera. The result was inspiring as various single bacterium lysis and leakage events were monitored with 10-s temporal resolution movies. We also found a new way of enhancing diffusion D-luciferin into cells by dehydrating the bacteria.

Then we started with this novel single bacterial CL imaging technique, and applied it for quantifying gene expression levels from individual bacterial cells. Previous published result in single cell gene expression quantification mainly used a fluorescence method; CL detection is limited because of the difficulty to introduce enough D-luciferin molecules. Since dehydration could easily cause proper size holes in bacterial cell membranes and facilitate D-luciferin diffusion, we used this method and recorded CL from individual cells each hour after induction. The CL light intensity from each individual cell was integrated and gene expression levels of two strain types were compared. Based on our calculation, the overall sensitivity of our system is already approaching the single enzyme level. The median enzyme number inside a single bacterium from the higher expression strain after 2 hours induction was quantified to be about 550 molecules.

Finally we imaged ATP release from astrocyte cells. Upon mechanical stimulation, astrocyte cells respond by increasing intracellular Ca2+ level and releasing ATP to extracellular spaces as signaling molecules. The ATP release imaged by direct CL imaging using free firefly luciferase and D-luciferin outside cells reflects the transient release as well as rapid ATP diffusion. Therefore ATP release detection at the cell surface is critical to study the ATP release mechanism and signaling propagation pathway. We realized this cell surface localized ATP release imaging detection by immobilizing firefly luciferase to streptavidin beads that attached to the cell surface via streptavidin-biotin interactions. Both intracellular Ca2+ propagation wave and extracellular ATP propagation wave at the cell surface were recorded with fluorescence and CL respectively. The results imply that at close distances from the stimulation center (<120 ym) extracellular ATP pathway is faster, while at long distances (>120 ym) intracellular Ca2+ signaling through gap junctions seems more effective.

Copyright Owner

Yun Zhang



Date Available


File Format


File Size

125 pages

Included in

Chemistry Commons