Cancer metastasis is a critical culprit frequently blamed for treatment failure, drug resistance, poor prognosis, and high mortality rate among all human cancers. Laboratory efforts to isolate metastatic cell populations have typically been confined to mouse models, which are time-consuming and expensive. Here, we present a model system based on xenografting zebrafish embryos to select for cells that are predisposed to progress through the early stages of metastasis. This model requires only 3-5 days to achieve distinct intravasation to the zebrafish circulatory system. The metastatic cells are easily tracked in real-time as they migrate, as well as isolated and propagated in vitro. Once expanded, molecular characterization of the serially derived invasive cell populations from the tails of the zebrafish accurately predicts genes, signaling pathways, protein-protein interactions, and differential splicing products that are important for an invasive phenotype. This zebrafish model therefore offers a high-throughput and robust method for identifying gene targets critical for cancer metastasis.

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