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Methods Enzymol. 2010;477:153-81. doi: 10.1016/S0076-6879(10)77010-5.

Genetic fate mapping using site-specific recombinases.

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Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, USA.


Understanding how cells are assembled in three dimensions to generate an organ, or a whole organism, is a pivotal question in developmental biology. Similarly, it is critical to understand how adult stem cells integrate into an existing organ during regeneration or in response to injury. Key to discovering the answers to these questions is being able to study the various behaviors of distinct cell types during development or regeneration. Fate mapping techniques are fundamental to studying cell behaviors such as proliferation, movement, and lineage segregation, as the techniques allow precursor cells to be marked and their descendants followed and characterized over time. The generation of transgenic mice, combined with the use of site-specific recombinases (SSR) in the mouse genome, has provided a means to develop powerful genetic fate mapping approaches. A key advantage of genetic fate mapping is that it allows cells to be genetically marked, and therefore the mark is transmitted to all the descendants of the initially marked cells. By making modifications to the SSRs that render their enzymatic activity inducible, and the development of an assortment of reporter alleles for marking cells, increasingly sophisticated genetic fate mapping studies can be performed. In this chapter, we review the four main genetic fate mapping methods that utilize intrachromosomal recombination to mark cells (cumulative, inducible, clonal, and intersectional) and one interchromosomal method, the tools required to carry out each approach, and the practical considerations that have to be taken into account before embarking on each type of genetic fate mapping study.

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