Anna Katerina Hadjantonakis Melinda Pirity and Andras Nagy 1 Introduction

The introduction and establishment of transgenic, and in particular embryonic stem (ES) cell-based gene "knockout" technologies have made the mouse a key player in studying embryonic development and disease (1,2). In recent years, methods for the production of more complex genomic alterations have become increasingly widespread, hinting at an ability to manipulate and study a mammalian genome to an extent never previously thought possible. Such methodologies often partner homologous recombination-mediated gene targeting or random integration with site-specific recombination events.

This chapter is concerned with the utilization of the bacteriophage P1 derived site-specific recombinase protein Cre (3-5), and its employment as a means to catalyze modifications in homologously recombined and randomly integrated target sites within the mouse genome.

Cre is a 38-kDa protein that recombines DNA between two loxP target sites. loxP sequences are 34 basepairs (bp) long comprising two 13-bp inverted repeats flanking an asymmetric 8bp core sequence. The recombination between two loxP sites with same orientation on the same DNA leaves two products each containing a single loxP site (6) (Fig. 1). This type of site-specific recombination, of which there are several other well-characterized systems in addition to the Cre/loxP, generates precise rearrangements of DNA but dispenses with the requirement for extensive homology between DNA partaking in the recombination. Recombination occurs through the recognition of the target sites by the recombinase, which then catalyzes strand exchange between them by precise breakage and rejoining events that are restricted to an internal region of identical sequence contained within the specific sites (6).

From: Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 97: Molecular Embryology: Methods and Protocols Edited by: P. T. Sharpe and I. Mason © Humana Press Inc., Totowa, NJ

Fig. 1. The Cre recombinase has a 34-bp recognition site comprising two inverted repeats and a core sequence (A). It can catalyze a site-specific recombination event leading to the deletion of the intervening DNA (B).

In addition to the Cre/loxP system, another one of the many recombinase that does not require ds-elements, but utilizes short recognition sites for recombination is the yeast FLP/FRT system. This system has also been widely used and applied to genome alterations (7-10), though to date the Cre protein has been shown to be more amenable to use in mammalian cells, and is therefore currently favored by most laboratories for use in ES cells and transgenic mice (11). As a consequence, we will solely refer to the Cre/loxP system in the strategies we present, though it should be noted that if the FLP/FRT were to be as efficient as the Cre/loxP system it could be substituted in all methodologies. Additionally, it might also be anticipated that future experiments may require a multistep, site-specific recombination strategy, thereby requiring the use of two separate recombination systems.

This chapter will illustrate and provide the methodologies for some of the applications of such a site-specific recombination system to experiments aimed at analyzing mouse embryonic development and/or disease conditions, from single-gene alterations, lineage-restricted and/or conditional gene ablations or ectopic expression through to chromosome engineering, and finally the use of such a system for lineage analysis.

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