Migration is a fundamental cellular behavior that plays an indispensable role in development and homeostasis, but can also contribute to pathology such as cancer metastasis. Due to its relevance to many aspects of human health, the ability to accurately measure cell migration is of broad interest, and numerous approaches have been developed. One of the most commonly employed approaches, because of its simplicity and throughput, is the exclusion zone assay in which cells are allowed to migrate into an initially cell-free region. A major drawback of this assay is that it relies on simply counting cells in the exclusion zone and therefore cannot distinguish the effects of proliferation from migration. We report here a simple modification to the exclusion zone migration assay that exclusively measures cell migration and is not affected by proliferation. This approach makes use of a lineage-tracing vital stain that is retained through cell generations and effectively reads out migration relative to the original, parental cell population. This modification is simple, robust, non-perturbing, and inexpensive. We validate the method in a panel of cell lines under conditions that inhibit or promote migration and demonstrate its use in normal and cancer cell lines as well as primary cells.
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