Using Cre-recombinase-driven Polylox barcoding for in vivo fate mapping in mice

Nat Protoc. 2019 Jun;14(6):1820-1840. doi: 10.1038/s41596-019-0163-5. Epub 2019 May 20.


Fate mapping is a powerful genetic tool for linking stem or progenitor cells with their progeny, and hence for defining cell lineages in vivo. The resolution of fate mapping depends on the numbers of distinct markers that are introduced in the beginning into stem or progenitor cells; ideally, numbers should be sufficiently large to allow the tracing of output from individual cells. Highly diverse genetic barcodes can serve this purpose. We recently developed an endogenous genetic barcoding system, termed Polylox. In Polylox, random DNA recombination can be induced by transient activity of Cre recombinase in a 2.1-kb-long artificial recombination substrate that has been introduced into a defined locus in mice (Rosa26Polylox reporter mice). Here, we provide a step-by-step protocol for the use of Polylox, including barcode induction and estimation of induction efficiency, barcode retrieval with single-molecule real-time (SMRT) DNA sequencing followed by computational barcode identification, and the calculation of barcode-generation probabilities, which is key for estimations of single-cell labeling for a given number of stem cells. Thus, Polylox barcoding enables high-resolution fate mapping in essentially all tissues in mice for which inducible Cre driver lines are available. Alternative methods include ex vivo cell barcoding, inducible transposon insertion and CRISPR-Cas9-based barcoding; Polylox currently allows combining non-invasive and cell-type-specific labeling with high label diversity. The execution time of this protocol is ~2-3 weeks for experimental data generation and typically <2 d for computational Polylox decoding and downstream analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CRISPR-Cas Systems
  • Cell Lineage*
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / metabolism
  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic / methods
  • Female
  • Genes, Reporter*
  • Genotyping Techniques / methods
  • Integrases / genetics
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Recombination, Genetic
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA / methods*


  • DNA
  • Cre recombinase
  • Integrases