Resolving Tumour Clonal Heterogeneity and Spatial Complexity using Nuclear Tandem Epitope Protein (nTEP) Barcoding
ABSTRACTTumours are composed of an array of unique cancer cell clones along with many non-tumour cells such as immune cells, fibroblasts and endothelial cells, which make up the complex tumour microenvironment. To better understand the co-evolution of tumour clones and cells of the tumour microenvironment, we require tools to spatially resolve heterotypic cellular interactions at the single cell level. We present a novel protein-based barcoding technology termed nuclear tandem epitope protein
... m epitope protein (nTEP) barcoding, which can be designed to combinatorially encode and track dozens to hundreds of tumour clones in their spatial context within complex cellular mixtures using multiplexed antibody-based imaging. Here we provide proof-of-principle of nTEP barcoding and develop the technology, which relies on lentiviral - based stable expression of a nuclear-localised fluorophore that contains unique combinations of protein epitope tags that can be decoded by a limited set of antibodies. By generating a series of cell lines expressing unique nTEP barcodes, we were able to robustly identify and spatially deconvolve specific clones present within highly complex cell mixtures at the single cell level using state-of-the-art iterative indirect immunofluorescence imaging (4i). We define the utility of nTEP-barcoding as a powerful tool for visualising and resolving tumour heterogeneity at the cellular level, and envision its usage in mouse tumour models for understanding how tumour clones modulate and interact with stromal- and immune cells in cancer.