MXS-Chaining: A Highly Efficient Cloning Platform for Imaging and Flow Cytometry Approaches in Mammalian Systems

PLoS One. 2015 Apr 24;10(4):e0124958. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0124958. eCollection 2015.


The continuous improvement of imaging technologies has driven the development of sophisticated reporters to monitor biological processes. Such constructs should ideally be assembled in a flexible enough way to allow for their optimization. Here we describe a highly reliable cloning method to efficiently assemble constructs for imaging or flow cytometry applications in mammalian cell culture systems. We bioinformatically identified a list of restriction enzymes whose sites are rarely found in human and mouse cDNA libraries. From the best candidates, we chose an enzyme combination (MluI, XhoI and SalI: MXS) that enables iterative chaining of individual building blocks. The ligation scar resulting from the compatible XhoI- and SalI-sticky ends can be translated and hence enables easy in-frame cloning of coding sequences. The robustness of the MXS-chaining approach was validated by assembling constructs up to 20 kb long and comprising up to 34 individual building blocks. By assessing the success rate of 400 ligation reactions, we determined cloning efficiency to be 90% on average. Large polycistronic constructs for single-cell imaging or flow cytometry applications were generated to demonstrate the versatility of the MXS-chaining approach. We devised several constructs that fluorescently label subcellular structures, an adapted version of FUCCI (fluorescent, ubiquitination-based cell cycle indicator) optimized to visualize cell cycle progression in mouse embryonic stem cells and an array of artificial promoters enabling dosage of doxycyline-inducible transgene expression. We made publicly available through the Addgene repository a comprehensive set of MXS-building blocks comprising custom vectors, a set of fluorescent proteins, constitutive promoters, polyadenylation signals, selection cassettes and tools for inducible gene expression. Finally, detailed guidelines describe how to chain together prebuilt MXS-building blocks and how to generate new customized MXS-building blocks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Tracking / methods*
  • Cloning, Molecular / methods*
  • DNA Restriction Enzymes / metabolism
  • Embryonic Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Gene Expression
  • Genetic Vectors / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Transgenes


  • DNA Restriction Enzymes

Grants and funding

The study was funded by the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.