Mastering the use of cellular barcoding to explore cancer heterogeneity

Nat Rev Cancer. 2022 Nov;22(11):609-624. doi: 10.1038/s41568-022-00500-2. Epub 2022 Aug 18.


Tumours are often composed of a multitude of malignant clones that are genomically unique, and only a few of them may have the ability to escape cancer therapy and grow as symptomatic lesions. As a result, tumours with a large degree of genomic diversity have a higher chance of leading to patient death. However, clonal fate can be driven by non-genomic features. In this context, new technologies are emerging not only to track the spatiotemporal fate of individual cells and their progeny but also to study their molecular features using various omics analysis. In particular, the recent development of cellular barcoding facilitates the labelling of tens to millions of cancer clones and enables the identification of the complex mechanisms associated with clonal fate in different microenvironments and in response to therapy. In this Review, we highlight the recent discoveries made using lentiviral-based cellular barcoding techniques, namely genetic and optical barcoding. We also emphasize the strengths and limitations of each of these technologies and discuss some of the key concepts that must be taken into consideration when one is designing barcoding experiments. Finally, we suggest new directions to further improve the use of these technologies in cancer research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Clone Cells
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics