Effective medical laser procedures are achieved by selecting laser parameters that minimize undesirable tissue damage. Traditionally, human subjects, animal models, and monolayer cell cultures have been used to study wound healing, tissue damage, and cellular effects of laser radiation. Each of these models has significant limitations, and consequently, a novel skin model is needed. To this end, a highly reproducible human skin model that enables noninvasive and longitudinal studies of gene expression was sought. In this study, we present an organotypic raft model (engineered skin) used in combination with bioluminescent imaging (BLI) techniques. The efficacy of the raft model was validated and characterized by investigating the role of heat shock protein 70 (hsp70) as a sensitive marker of thermal damage. The raft model consists of human cells incorporated into an extracellular matrix. The raft cultures were transfected with an adenovirus containing a murine hsp70 promoter driving transcription of luciferase. The model enables quantitative analysis of spatiotemporal expression of proteins using BLI. Thermal stress was induced on the raft cultures by means of a constant temperature water bath or with a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser (lambda=10.6 microm, 0.679 to 2.262 Wcm2, cw, unfocused Gaussian beam, omegaL=4.5 mm, 1 min exposure). The bioluminescence was monitored noninvasively with an IVIS 100 Bioluminescent Imaging System. BLI indicated that peak hsp70 expression occurs 4 to 12 h after exposure to thermal stress. A minimum irradiance of 0.679 Wcm2 activated the hsp70 response, and a higher irradiance of 2.262 Wcm2 was associated with a severe reduction in hsp70 response due to tissue ablation. Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction demonstrated that hsp70 mRNA levels increased with prolonged heating exposures. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent protein assays confirmed that luciferase was an accurate surrogate for hsp70 intracellular protein levels. Hematoxylin and eosin stains verified the presence of the thermally denatured tissue regions. Immunohistochemical analyses confirmed that maximal hsp70 expression occurred at a depth of 150 microm. Bioluminescent microscopy was employed to corroborate these findings. These results indicate that quantitative BLI in engineered tissue equivalents provides a powerful model that enables sequential gene expression studies. Such a model can be used as a high throughput screening platform for laser-tissue interaction studies.