Bioluminescent Dopamine and Glutamate Sensors


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Executive Summary

Genetically encoded optical sensors and advancements in microscopy have revolutionized the scientific toolbox used for answering complex biological questions especially in terms of studying brain activity. However, there remains a need to develop new tools for reporting neuronal activity in vivo within deeper structures. MSU innovators have recently developed new bioluminescent sensors that do not require external light sources and produce unprecedented intensities in the presence of glutamate or dopamine neurotransmitters. Their efficiency makes them especially attractive for research on treatments for neurodegenerative and mental health disorders.


Description of the Technology

This technology utilizes genetically encoded proteins containing neurotransmitter sensing and luciferase domains. The technology has been tested in rats for detection of induced seizures as deep as 2 mm below the cortex and through the skull.



  • Dopamine and glutamate sensing
  • Does not require external light source
  • In-vivo neuronal activity sensing
  • Over 2.5 times increase in response to neurotransmitter presentation when expressed in mammalian cells
  • Can be used to activate light sensitive proteins



  • Research tool for measuring neurotransmitters deep in brain structures
  • Sensing presynaptic dopamine in Parkinson’s patients
  • Activation of an excitatory channel rhodopsin


Patent Status

Patent pending


Licensing Rights

Licensing rights available. May require additional third party licenses.



BioRxiv Article



Dr. Eric Peterson



TEC2021-0096 and TEC2022-0075

Patent Information:


For Information, Contact:

Jon Debling
Technology Manager
Michigan State University
Eric Petersen