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Mol Cell Biol. Feb 1987; 7(2): 725–737.
PMCID: PMC365129

Firefly luciferase gene: structure and expression in mammalian cells.

Abstract

The nucleotide sequence of the luciferase gene from the firefly Photinus pyralis was determined from the analysis of cDNA and genomic clones. The gene contains six introns, all less than 60 bases in length. The 5' end of the luciferase mRNA was determined by both S1 nuclease analysis and primer extension. Although the luciferase cDNA clone lacked the six N-terminal codons of the open reading frame, we were able to reconstruct the equivalent of a full-length cDNA using the genomic clone as a source of the missing 5' sequence. The full-length, intronless luciferase gene was inserted into mammalian expression vectors and introduced into monkey (CV-1) cells in which enzymatically active firefly luciferase was transiently expressed. In addition, cell lines stably expressing firefly luciferase were isolated. Deleting a portion of the 5'-untranslated region of the luciferase gene removed an upstream initiation (AUG) codon and resulted in a twofold increase in the level of luciferase expression. The ability of the full-length luciferase gene to activate cryptic or enhancerless promoters was also greatly reduced or eliminated by this 5' deletion. Assaying the expression of luciferase provides a rapid and inexpensive method for monitoring promoter activity. Depending on the instrumentation employed to detect luciferase activity, we estimate this assay to be from 30- to 1,000-fold more sensitive than assaying chloramphenicol acetyltransferase expression.

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