Solution-phase and intracellular biosensing has substantially enhanced our understanding of molecular processes foundational to biology and pathology. Optical methods are favored because of the low cost of probes and instrumentation. While chromatographic methods are helpful, fluorescent biosensing further increases sensitivity and can be more effective in complex media. Resonance energy transfer (RET)-based sensors have been developed to use fluorescence, bioluminescence, or chemiluminescence (FRET, BRET, or CRET, respectively) as an energy donor, yielding changes in emission spectra, lifetime, or intensity in response to a molecular or environmental change. These methods hold great promise for expanding our understanding of molecular processes not just in solution and in vitro studies, but also in vivo, generating information about complex activities in a natural, organismal setting. In this review, we focus on dyes, fluorescent proteins, and nanoparticles used as energy transfer-based optical transducers in vivo in mice; there are examples of optical sensing using FRET, BRET, and in this mammalian model system. After a description of the energy transfer mechanisms and their contribution to in vivo imaging, we give a short perspective of RET-based in vivo sensors and the importance of imaging in the infrared for reduced tissue autofluorescence and improved sensitivity.
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