Recombinase-mediated cassette exchange (RMCE) - a rapidly-expanding toolbox for targeted genomic modifications

Gene. 2013 Feb 15;515(1):1-27. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2012.11.016. Epub 2012 Nov 29.


Starting in 1991, the advance of Tyr-recombinases Flp and Cre enabled superior strategies for the predictable insertion of transgenes into compatible target sites of mammalian cells. Early approaches suffered from the reversibility of integration routes and the fact that co-introduction of prokaryotic vector parts triggered uncontrolled heterochromatization. Shortcomings of this kind were overcome when Flp-Recombinase Mediated Cassette Exchange entered the field in 1994. RMCE enables enhanced tag-and-exchange strategies by precisely replacing a genomic target cassette by a compatible donor construct. After "gene swapping" the donor cassette is safely locked in, but can nevertheless be re-mobilized in case other compatible donor cassettes are provided ("serial RMCE"). These features considerably expand the options for systematic, stepwise genome modifications. The first decade was dominated by the systematic generation of cell lines for biotechnological purposes. Based on the reproducible expression capacity of the resulting strains, a comprehensive toolbox emerged to serve a multitude of purposes, which constitute the first part of this review. The concept per se did not, however, provide access to high-producer strains able to outcompete industrial multiple-copy cell lines. This fact gave rise to systematic improvements, among these certain accumulative site-specific integration pathways. The exceptional value of RMCE emerged after its entry into the stem cell field, where it started to contribute to the generation of induced pluripotent stem (iPS-) cells and their subsequent differentiation yielding a variety of cell types for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes. This topic firmly relies on the strategies developed in the first decade and can be seen as the major ambition of the present article. In this context an unanticipated, potent property of serial Flp-RMCE setups concerns the potential to re-open loci that have served to establish the iPS status before the site underwent the obligatory silencing process. Other relevant options relate to the introduction of composite Flp-recognition target sites ("heterospecific FRT-doublets"), into the LTRs of lentiviral vectors. These "twin sites" enhance the safety of iPS re-programming and -differentiation as they enable the subsequent quantitative excision of a transgene, leaving behind a single "FRT-twin". Such a strategy combines the established expression potential of the common retro- and lentiviral systems with options to terminate the process at will. The remaining genomic tag serves to identify and characterize the insertion site with the goal to identify genomic "safe harbors" (GOIs) for re-use. This is enabled by the capacity of "FRT-twins" to accommodate any incoming RMCE-donor cassette with a compatible design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Targeting*
  • Genomics
  • Humans
  • Recombinases / metabolism*
  • Recombination, Genetic*


  • Recombinases