A lineage-tracing tool to map the fate of hypoxic tumour cells

Jenny A. F. Vermeer, Jonathan Ient, Bostjan Markelc, Jakob Kaeppler, Lydie M. O. Barbeau, Arjan J. Groot, Ruth J. Muschel*, Marc A. Vooijs*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Intratumoural hypoxia is a common characteristic of malignant treatment-resistant cancers. However, hypoxia-modification strategies for the clinic remain elusive. To date, little is known on the behaviour of individual hypoxic tumour cells in their microenvironment. To explore this issue in a spatial and temporally controlled manner, we developed a genetically encoded sensor by fusing the O-2-labile hypoxia-inducible factor 1 alpha (HIF-1 alpha) protein to eGFP and a tamoxifen-regulated Cre recombinase. Under normoxic conditions, HIF-1 alpha is degraded but, under hypoxia, the HIF-1 alpha-GFP-Cre-ERT2 fusion protein is stabilised and in the presence of tamoxifen activates a tdTomato reporter gene that is constitutively expressed in hypoxic progeny. We visualise the random distribution of hypoxic tumour cells from hypoxic or necrotic regions and vascularised areas using immunofluorescence and intravital microscopy. Once tdTomato expression is induced, it is stable for at least 4 weeks. Using this system, we could show in vivo that the post-hypoxic cells were more proliferative than non-labelled cells. Our results demonstrate that single-cell lineage tracing of hypoxic tumour cells can allow visualisation of their behaviour in living tumours using intravital microscopy. This tool should prove valuable for the study of dissemination and treatment response of post-hypoxic tumour cells in vivo at single-cell resolution.

This article has an associated First Person interview with the joint first authors of the paper.

Original languageEnglish
Article number044768
Number of pages12
JournalDisease Models & Mechanisms
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Hypoxia
  • Lineage tracing
  • HIF
  • Cre recombinase
  • Intravital imaging
  • NSCLC tumour
  • HEAD
  • PET


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