Past studies have demonstrated that combined fluorescence and diffuse reflectance spectroscopy can successfully discriminate between normal, tumor core, and tumor margin tissues in the brain. To achieve efficient surgical resection guidance with optical biopsy, probe-based spectroscopy must be extended to spectral imaging to spatially demarcate the tumor margins. This paper describes the design and testing of a combined fluorescence and diffuse reflectance imaging system which uses liquid-crystal tunable filter technology. Experiments were conducted to quantitatively determine its linearity, field of view, spatial and spectral resolution, and wavelength sensitivity. For functional testing, spectral images were acquired from tissue phantoms, mouse brain in vitro, and rat brain cortex in vivo. The spectral imaging system is characterized by measured intensities which are linear with sample emission intensity and integration time, a one-inch field of view for a seven-inch object distance, spectral resolution which is linear with wavelength, spatial resolution which is pixel-limited, and sensitivity functions which provide a guide for the distribution of total image integration time between wavelengths. Functional testing demonstrated good spatial and spectral constrast between brain tissue types, the capability to acquire adequate fluorescence and diffuse reflectance intensities within a one-minute imaging timeframe, and the importance of hemostasis to acquired signal strengths and imaging speed.© (2006) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.