A fascinating aspect of developmental biology is how organs are assembled in three dimensions over time. Fundamental to understanding organogenesis is the ability to determine when and where specific cell types are generated, the lineage of each cell, and how cells move to reside in their final position. Numerous methods have been developed to mark and follow the fate of cells in various model organisms used by developmental biologists, but most are not readily applicable to mouse embryos in utero because they involve physical marking of cells through injection of tracers. The advent of sophisticated transgenic and gene targeting techniques, combined with the use of site-specific recombinases, has revolutionized fate mapping studies in mouse. Furthermore, using genetic fate mapping to mark cells has opened up the possibility of addressing fundamental questions that cannot be studied with traditional methods of fate mapping in other organisms. Specifically, genetic fate mapping allows both the relationship between embryonic gene expression and cell fate (genetic lineage) to be determined, as well as the link between gene expression domains and anatomy (genetic anatomy) to be established. In this review, we present the ever-evolving development of genetic fate mapping techniques in mouse, especially the recent advance of Genetic Inducible Fate Mapping. We then review recent studies in the nervous system (focusing on the anterior hindbrain) as well as in the limb and with adult stem cells to highlight fundamental developmental processes that can be discovered using genetic fate mapping approaches. We end with a look toward the future at a powerful new approach that combines genetic fate mapping with cellular phenotyping alleles to study cell morphology, physiology, and function using examples from the nervous system.
Copyright 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.