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Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Dev Biol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 July 15.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC3711868

Mutation of zebrafish Snapc4 is associated with loss of the intrahepatic biliary network


Biliary epithelial cells line the intrahepatic biliary network, a complex three-dimensional network of conduits. The loss of differentiated biliary epithelial cells is the primary cause of many congenital liver diseases. We identified a zebrafish snapc4 (small nuclear RNA-activating complex polypeptide 4) mutant in which biliary epithelial cells initially differentiate but subsequently disappear. In these snapc4 mutant larvae, the biliary epithelial cells undergo apoptosis, leading to the degeneration of the intrahepatic biliary network. Consequently, in snapc4 mutant larvae, biliary transport of ingested fluorescent lipids to the gallbladder is blocked. Snapc4 is the largest subunit of the protein complex that regulates small nuclear RNA (snRNA) transcription. The snapc4s445 mutation causes a truncation of the C-terminus thereby deleting the domain responsible for a specific interaction with Snapc2, a vertebrate specific subunit of the SNAP complex. This mutation leads to a hypomorphic phenotype, as only a subset of snRNA transcripts are quantitatively altered in snapc4s445 mutant larvae. snapc2 knockdown also disrupts the intrahepatic biliary network in a similar fashion as in snapc4s445 mutant larvae. These data indicate that the physical interaction between Snapc2 and Snapc4 is important for the expression of a subset of snRNAs and biliary epithelial cell survival in zebrafish.

Keywords: Liver, snRNA, SNAP190, SNAPC2, biliary epithelial cells, vanishing bile duct


The liver is a major digestive organ responsible for many important physiological functions, including bile synthesis and secretion. Bile is synthesized in hepatocytes and transported to the intestine through the biliary network. The biliary network is a complex of three-dimensional conduits lined by specialized cells called biliary epithelial cells. Many congenital liver diseases are associated with biliary network malformation (Alvaro, 1999; Lazaridis et al., 2004; Lemaigre and Zaret, 2004; Strazzabosco et al., 2005; Raynaud et al., 2011). Despite their etiological heterogeneity and difference in degree of inflammatory response, one end result of many biliary disorders is the loss of biliary cells (Strazzabosco et al., 2000; Lazaridis et al., 2004). Thus, understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the loss of biliary epithelial cells could lead to novel insights into the pathogenesis of various biliary disorders, and may provide the basis for novel therapeutic strategies.

The small nuclear RNA (snRNA)-activating protein complex (SNAPc) is a transcription factor essential for transcription of the snRNA genes, including U1, U2, U4, U5, and U6 spliceosomal snRNAs (Jawdekar and Henry 2008, Ma and Hernandez, 2001; Yoon et al., 1995). SNAPc is composed of at least five proteins; Snapc1 (also know as SNAP43 or PTFγ) (Yoon et al., 1996), Snapc2 (SNAP45 or PTFδ) (Sadowski et al., 1996), Snapc3 (SNAP50 or PTFβ) (Henry et al., 1996), Snapc4 (SNAP190 or PTFα) (Wong et al., 1998), and Snapc5 (SNAP19) (Henry et al., 1998). Snapc4 is the largest subunit, and serves as a backbone to assemble SNAPc. All subunits except for Snapc2 assemble on the N-terminus of Snapc4. Snapc2 instead binds to a domain called Snapc2 binding domain within the C-terminus of Snapc4 (Ma and Hernandez, 2001). Interestingly, a partial SNAPc containing Snapc1, Snapc3 and the N-terminal third of Snapc4 are fully sufficient for target DNA sequence binding and snRNA gene transcription in vitro (Mittal et al., 1999). Thus, neither the C-terminal two-thirds of Snapc4 nor Snapc2 are required for in vitro basal snRNA transcription. The same three subunits required for the partial SNAPc are widely conserved in Drosophila, trypanosomes and plants (Li et al., 2004; Das and Bellofatto, 2003; Schimanski et al., 2005). In contrast, the Snapc2 and Snapc5 subunits are not conserved in invertebrates or plants, and these subunits are, at least in vitro, dispensable for vertebrate snRNA transcription (Mittal et al., 1999). Although Snapc2 binding changes SNAPc target recognition, the in vivo function of this vertebrate specific subunit is not known.

Zebrafish express genes encoding all 5 subunits of SNAPc and contain vertebrate specific organs such as the liver, making it a suitable genetic model to study functions of the vertebrate specific subunits of SNAPc. In zebrafish, the formation and function of the biliary network has been characterized (Lorent et al., 2004; Matthews et al., 2004; Sakaguchi et al., 2008). The small size of the larval liver enables visualization of the three-dimensional branching structure of the intrahepatic biliary network (Sakaguchi et al., 2008). Imaging studies of the intrahepatic biliary network have been facilitated by the recent development of a notch activity reporter transgenic line in which GFP is specifically expressed in the biliary network (Parsons et al., 2009; Lorent et al., 2010).

In this study, we identified a mutation in the zebrafish snapc4 gene which truncates the C-terminal third of the protein and deletes a Snapc2 binding domain. The mutant form of Snapc4 is similar to that of invertebrate Snapc4 (Hernandez Jr et al., 2006; Kim et al., 2010) or the mini-Snapc4 used for in vitro studies (Ma and Hernandez, 2001). As expected from these in vitro studies, the truncated mutant form of Snapc4 still can regulate the expression of most of its target snRNAs, and thus can be considered to be a hypomorphic allele. We further show that this snapc4 hypomorph unexpectedly causes the loss of differentiated biliary epithelial cells in zebrafish.


Zebrafish s445 mutants exhibit intrahepatic biliary network defects

We identified a recessive lethal mutation, s445, in a forward genetic screen for genes that regulate liver organogenesis in zebrafish, Danio rerio (Ober et al., 2006). At 120 hours post-fertilization (hpf), homozygous s445 mutant larvae are morphologically similar to wild-type siblings (Fig. 1A and B). However their liver, which is visualized by Tg(gutGFP)s854 expression (Field et al., 2003), is noticeably smaller (Fig. 1B; Supplementary fig. 1). We also compared the size of the regions marked by hepatocyte specific Tg(fabp1a:DsRed)gz15 expression, which is clearly smaller in s445 mutant larvae as compared to wild-type at 120 hpf (Fig. 1C and D), supporting the observation that the liver is the smaller in s445 mutant larvae.

Figure 1
Morphological and physiological phenotype of s445 mutant larvae at 120 hpf. (A and B) Bright-field images of wild-type (A) and s445 mutant (B) larvae at 120 hpf are overlaid with Tg(gutGFP)s854 expression (green). The physiological appearance of s445 ...

We then made use of the PED6 fluorescence assay to test in vivo the function of the digestive organs in s445 mutants. In this assay, larvae are fed the quenched fluorescent phospholipid PED6, which is cleaved in the intestine, activating the fluorescent signal (Farber et. al., 2001). The fluorescent metabolites are then transported through the biliary system to the gallbladder (Fig. 1E). PED6 fluorescence can be observed in the intestines of s445 mutant larvae (Fig. 1F, asterisk). However, in s445 mutant larvae, no PED6 signal is observed in the gallbladder, despite the presence of a morphologically identifiable gallbladder and extrahepatic bile duct (Fig. 1H). Based on these data, we hypothesized that the defect in PED6 metabolite transportation is due to an impairment of the intrahepatic biliary network.

To test this hypothesis, we undertook time course observations of intrahepatic biliary network formation in s445 mutants. Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 is expressed by intrahepatic biliary epithelial cells in the zebrafish liver (Parsons et al., 2009, Lorent et al., 2010). At 80 hpf, we did not observe any difference in Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expression in the s445 mutant liver (Fig. 2A and D), suggesting that the intrahepatic biliary network initially formed. At 100 hpf, the Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 positive intrahepatic biliary network is highly branched in wild-type larvae. However in contrast, by 100 hpf in s445 mutant larvae, Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expression largely disappears from the liver, with only weak fluorescence detected in the central part of the liver (Fig. 2E). At 120 hpf, Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 fluorescence cannot be detected in the s445 mutant liver (Fig. 2F). These data suggest that the intrahepatic biliary network forms initially but disappears by 120 hpf in s445 mutant larvae.

Figure 2
Time course observation of intrahepatic biliary network development. (A–C) Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expression in the wild-type intrahepatic biliary network at 80 (A), 100 (B) and 120 (C) hpf; same larva is shown at all stages. (D–F) Tg(Tp1-MmHbb: ...

To better understand the defects caused by the s445 mutation, we visualized the three-dimensional structure of the intrahepatic biliary network. Immunofluorescence staining for Alcam, the intrahepatic biliary network marker (Sakaguchi et al., 2008), was used to visualize the intrahepatic biliary network (Fig. 3A). Consistent with the time course observations, we did not observe any difference in Alcam or Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expression in s445 mutant larvae at 80 hpf (Fig. 3A and B; Supplementary Fig. 2), supporting the idea that biliary epithelial cells initially differentiate in s445 mutant larvae. However, in s445 mutant larvae at 100 hpf, Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expression in the liver was significantly different from wild-type siblings (Fig. 3D). In the wild-type livers, the Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expressing intrahepatic biliary network added new branches (Fig. 3C). In contrast, the intrahepatic biliary network appears to be degenerating in the s445 mutant livers (Fig. 3D).

Figure 3
The intrahepatic biliary network disappears in s445 mutant larvae. Projected (A–D and J–K) and z-plane (E–F and H–I) confocal images of the liver at 80 (A and B), 100 (C–F) and 120 (H–K) hpf. Ventral views, ...

In s445 mutant larvae, we detected fluorescent TUNEL-positive/Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14-positive cells in the liver (Average 6.6 cells per liver, SD= 4.9, n=5, p < 0.05) at 100 hpf (Fig. 3F and G), while no Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expressing cells in the wild-type liver (n=5) showed TUNEL signal at the same stage (Fig. 3E and G). These data suggest that biliary epithelial cells are initially present but undergo cell death in s445 mutant larvae. In contrast, there is no significance difference in the number of TUNEL-positive/Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14-negative cells in the liver between wild-type (average 3.8 cells per liver; SD = 2.16; n = 5) and s445 mutant (average 2.6 cells per liver; SD = 1.81; n = 5; p > 0.05) larvae, suggesting that cell death is significantly increased only in biliary epithelial cells in the s445 mutant liver. Consistent with this observation, at 120 hpf, there were very few Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expressing biliary epithelial cells in s445 mutant livers (Fig. 3I), while the Tg(fabp1a:DsRed)gz15 expressing hepatocytes were sustained (Fig. 3H and I). The Tg(kdrl:EGFP)s843 (Jin et al., 2005) expressing intrahepatic vascular network is a highly branched conduit (Fig. 3J), which is intertwined with the intrahepatic biliary network in zebrafish (Fig. 3J; Sakaguchi et al., 2008). In s445 mutant larvae, the intrahepatic vascular network was less affected, maintaining its branched structures (Fig. 3K”), while the Alcam-expressing intrahepatic biliary network had largely degenerated (Fig. 3K’). Differentiated biliary epithelial cells and their lumens are evident in electron micrographs of the wild-type liver at 120 hpf (Fig. 3L). However at the same stage, no biliary epithelial cells can be morphologically confirmed in electron micrographs of the s445 mutant (Fig. 3M). Overall, these data suggest that the s445 mutation preferentially affects the intrahepatic biliary network.

s445 mutation truncates the C-terminal third of zebrafish Snapc4

To identify the s445 gene, we employed a positional cloning strategy. Bulk segregant analyses using markers from the zebrafish genetic map placed the s445 locus on zebrafish chromosome 5 (Fig. 4A). In subsequent steps, we defined a critical region surrounding the s445 locus, which was flanked by markers 0.2 cM (z26603) and 0.07 cM (CA-YE2) from the s445 locus (Fig. 4A). Two partially overlapping BACs, DKEY-20G15 and DKEY-1O2, spanned the critical region (Fig. 4A). Injecting a DKEY-102, but not DKEY-20G15 BAC into s445 homozygous mutants partially rescued its phenotype (data not shown), indicating that the DKEY-102 BAC contains the s445 locus.

Figure 4
Positional cloning of the s445 mutant locus. (A) Schematic of the 445 locus. s445 is located on chromosome 5 in between two CA-repeat markers, z26603 (0.2 cM; 7 recombinants out of 3072 meioses) and CA-YE2 (0.07 cM; 2 recombinants out of 3056 meioses). ...

There are four predicted genes between CA-YE2 and the end of DKEY-102. Sequence analysis of the four candidate cDNAs from s445 mutant and wild-type larvae identified only a single point mutation in the zebrafish snapc4 (snRNA-activating protein complex peptide 4) gene (Fig. 4B). This C to T transition generated a premature stop codon in the zebrafish snapc4 cDNA (Fig. 4C), indicating that this lesion is responsible for the s445 phenotype.

Snapc4 is the largest subunit of the transcription factor SNAPc (snRNA activating protein complex; Wong et al., 1998), which is responsible for snRNA gene transcription. Zebrafish Snapc4 contains conserved Myb DNA binding and Snapc2 binding domains (Fig. 4C). The s445 mutation deletes the Snapc2 binding domain while the Myb DNA binding domain remains intact (Fig. 4C). To further confirm that the snapc4 gene was responsible for the s445 mutant phenotype, we injected antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (MOs) to knock down snapc4 gene function. A splice blocking MO(A) designed to truncate the C-terminal third of the Snapc4 protein phenocopied the s445 mutant phenotype (n=35, Supplementary fig. 3C and D). These data further support the hypothesis that truncation of the C-terminal third of the Snapc4 protein is the cause of the s445 mutant phenotype. Injecting another splice blocking MO(B), which is designed to block splicing in front of the Myb DNA binding domain, generated a more severe morphological phenotype than the s445 mutants (n > 50, Supplementary fig. 3E and F), suggesting that s445 is a hypomorphic mutation in which the s445 mutant phenotype is milder than a complete loss-of-function phenotype. Injecting a snapc4 MO(C) which targets the translation initiation codon induced developmental arrest within 18 to 24 hpf (n=38, data not shown). Since splice blocking MOs target only zygotic snpac4 mRNA but the translation initiation blocking MO targets both maternal and zygotic snapc4 mRNA, the complete loss of snapc4 function severely affects embryonic development.

Since the region surrounding zebrafish snapc4 is syntenic to human chromosome 9q34.3 where human SNAPC4 is located (Fig. 4D), zebrafish snapc4 is likely the orthologue of human SNAPC4.

Consistent with the s445 mutant phenotypes, the snapc4 gene is expressed in the liver at 80 hpf (Fig. 4E). Strong snapc4 expression is also detected in the brain, eyes and branchial arches at 80 hpf (Fig. 4E).

snRNA expression in s445 mutant larvae

SNAPc is required for the transcription of snRNA genes in vitro (Jawdekar and Henry, 2008). We thus examined snRNA gene expression in s445 mutant larvae by real-time quantitative PCR and Northern blotting. Unexpectedly, there were no significant differences in U1, U2 and U6 snRNA expression levels in s445 mutant larvae at 100 hpf (Fig. 5 A and B). Meanwhile, in s445 mutant larvae, U4 and U5 snRNA expression levels were downregulated approximately 50 and 75 percent, respectively (Fig. 5A and B). These data support the hypothesis that the s445 mutation is hypomorphic, affecting only a subset of its downstream target snRNA genes.

Figure 5
snRNA expression in s445 mutant larvae. (A) Real-time PCR to compare snRNA gene expression between wild-type and s445 mutant larvae at 100 hpf. Data are represented as fold change relative to expression levels in wild-type larvae. The expression levels ...

Snapc2 is required for intrahepatic biliary network formation

Since the Snapc2 binding domain is deleted from Snapc4 in s445 mutants, we hypothesized that the absence of the Snapc2/Snapc4 interaction is responsible for downregulation of U4 and U5 snRNA transcription as well as the degenerate intrahepatic biliary network phenotype in s445 mutant larvae. To test this hypothesis, we knocked down the zebrafish snapc2 gene. We designed two non-overlapping splice blocking snapc2 MOs (MO(A) and MO(B)). Injecting both snapc2 MOs generated the same phenotype (Fig. 6B), suggesting that these MOs are both working in a target-specific manner. snapc2 MOs-injected larvae had smaller livers and slight pericardial edema at 100 hpf (Fig. 6B), while their body length was normal. The snapc2 gene is expressed in the liver at 80 hpf (Fig. 6C), and its expression pattern is similar to that of the snapc4 gene (Compare Fig, 6C and Fig. 4E). Similar to s445 mutant larvae, in snapc2 MO(A)-injected larvae at 100 hpf, Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 expression in the liver was missing (Fig. 6E), while hepatocyte marker Tg(fabp1a:DsRed)gz15 expression was sustained (Fig. 6G). These data suggest that, similar to s445 mutant larvae, the intrahepatic biliary network is preferentially affected in snapc2 MO(A) injected larvae. In snapc2 MO(A) injected larvae, a 52 bp deletion in the snacp2 cDNA was detected (Fig. 6H), further confirming that snapc2 MO(A) works in a target specific manner. We also found that in snapc2 MO injected larvae, U4 and U5 snRNA expression levels were downregulated (Fig. 6I) in a similar manner to s445 mutant larvae. In snapc2 MO injected larvae, U2 snRNA expression was also slightly down-regulated (Fig. 6I). These data suggest that Snapc2 is required for intrahepatic biliary network maintenance, as well as snRNA transcription.

Figure 6
Zebrafish Snapc2 is essential for intrahepatic biliary network formation. (A and B) Bright-field images of wild-type (A) and snapc2 morpholino injected (B) larvae at 100 hpf are overlaid with Tg(gutGFP)s854 fluorescence (green). snapc2 morpholino injected ...

Since the snapc2 binding domain of Snapc4 is known to interact physically with Snapc2, we hypothesized that over-expressing only the Snapc2 binding domain might inhibit Snapc2 binding to endogenous Snapc4. To test this hypothesis, we cloned the Snapc2 binding domain of Snapc4, and attached translation initiation and stop codons in the beginning and the end of it, respectively (Figure 6J’ and materials and methods). When we injected synthesized mRNA encoding the Snapc2 binding domain, injected larvae showed similar phenotype (26/33) to that of larvae injected with Snapc2 MOs at 100 hpf (compare Figure 6B and 6J). Tg(Tp1bglob:EGFP)um14 expression in the liver was missing in the Snapc2 binding domain mRNA injected larvae at 100 hp (compare Figure 6D and 6K). These data further support the hypothesis that physical interaction between Snapc4 and Snapc2 is important for the maintenance of the intrahepatic biliary network.


In this study, we identified a zebrafish snapc4 mutant in which differentiated biliary epithelial cells initially develop but later degenerate. To our knowledge, this is the first in vivo evidence showing that Snapc4 is required for a specific biological process, the maintenance of the intrahepatic biliary network.

The C-terminal region of Snapc4 has an inhibitory function

The snRNA-activating protein complex, SNAPc, is a multi-subunit transcription factor that is required for transcription of the snRNA genes (Jawdekar and Henry, 2008). Snapc4, the largest subunit of the SNAPc, forms the backbone of the complex (Wong et al., 1998). In vitro studies have demonstrated that the C-terminal region of Snapc4 possesses an inhibitory effect on its target DNA binding and transcriptional abilities (Mittal et al., 1999). Binding of Snapc2 to the C-terminal portion of Snapc4 masks the inhibitory effect, and enhances the DNA binding of Snapc4 to the target DNA in vitro (Mittal et al., 1999). In fact, removing the C-terminal two-thirds of Snapc4 improves its DNA binding and transcriptional abilities. Thus, in vitro, omission of Snapc2, which releases an inhibitory effect on the C-terminal portion of Snapc4, impairs Snapc4 function to a greater degree than deletion of the C-terminal two-thirds of Snapc4 (Mittal et al., 1999; Ma and Hernandez, 2001). These in vitro data are fully consistent with our zebrafish in vivo data. The depletion of Snapc2 in larvae injected with the snapc2 MO results in a more severe morphological phenotype than that of s445 mutant larvae, in which the C-terminal third of Snapc4 is deleted (Compare Fig. 1B and Fig. 6B).

In vitro, the N-terminal third of Snapc4 is sufficient to regulate basal levels of U1 and U6 snRNA transcription (Mittal et al., 1999). Consistent with these data, in s445 mutant larvae, we detected no significant change in U1, U2 and U6 snRNA expression levels (Fig. 5). Blockage of U2 snRNA function is known to induce early developmental arrest in zebrafish (König et al., 2007), suggesting that snRNA genes are indispensable for zebrafish development. Consistently, we detected developmental arrest after translational blockage in snapc4 MO(C) injected larvae, in which most of Snapc4 protein should be depleted. This result suggests that full length Snapc4 is required for early developmental progress. Thus, we conclude that the s445 mutation is hypomorphic, affecting only a subset of target snRNA transcription. To our knowledge, this is the first in vivo genetic evidence that, consistent with in vitro data, the C-terminal third of Snapc4 is not required for U1and U6 snRNA transcription.

Zebrafish and human Snapc4

Since the synteny is conserved (Fig. 4D), zebrafish snapc4, which is affected by the s445 mutation, is most likely an orthologue of human SNAPC4. Zebrafish Snapc4 contains conserved Myb DNA binding and Snapc2 binding domains. However, an Oct-1 binding domain, which is conserved across mammalian Snapc4 genes, is not found in zebrafish Snapc4. This lack of a recognizable Oct-1 binding domain does not exclude the possibility that a different sequence in zebrafish Snapc4 is responsible for Oct-1 binding. To our surprise, zebrafish snapc4 shows tissue specific expression at 80 hpf (Fig. 4E), at a time when U1 snRNA is expressed ubiquitously (data not shown). We assume that highly proliferating cells require additional snRNA transcriptional regulators to maintain constant snRNA levels. However, we cannot exclude the possibility that the SNAPc possesses additional roles in organogenesis beyond snRNA transcriptional regulation.

Human SNAPC4 is located on chromosome 9q34.3. Interestingly, the deletion of 9q34.3 results in complicated clinical syndromes (Iwakoshi et al., 2004; Harada et al., 2006; Neas et al., 2005; Pointon et al., 2010). The fact that a hypomorphic snapc4 mutation can cause tissue or cell type specific phenotypes in zebrafish could help identify the responsible genes for these human diseases.

Vanishing bile duct syndrome is an irreversible human liver disorder caused by biliary duct destruction (Pass et al., 2008). In the vanishing bile duct syndrome, differentiated biliary epithelial cells undergo apoptotic cell death and disappear (Strazzabosco et al., 2000). It is noteworthy that the phenotype we observe in s445 mutant larvae - that biliary epithelial cells initially differentiate but subsequently disappear due to apoptosis - is similar to that observed in vanishing bile duct syndrome.

Degenerating biliary epithelial cells in s445 mutant larvae

The livers of s445 mutant larvae are indistinguishable from those of wild-type siblings at 80 hpf (Fig. 2A and D; Fig. 3A and B). However, at 100 hpf, the intrahepatic biliary network shows drastic differences in s445 mutant larvae (Fig. 3C and D). In s445 mutant larvae, many biliary branches are contracted, displaying prominent cell death in Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 positive biliary epithelial cells (Fig. 3F). Thus at 100 hpf, biliary epithelial cells are more vulnerable to the s445 mutation than other cell types in the liver (Fig. 3I and K). However, it should be noted that, at 120 hpf, hepatocytes also decrease in number (Fig. 1D) and appear to have morphological differences (Fig. 3M) in s445 mutant larvae. s445 mutant larvae generally die at 8 dpf.

Since snapc2 knock down leads to a similar biliary phenotype, we posit that the absence of the Snapc2-Snapc4 interaction is responsible for the loss of biliary epithelial cells in s445 mutant larvae. Indeed, blocking the Snapc2-Snapc4 interaction by overexpression of the Snapc2 binding domain also impairs intrahepatic biliary network formation (Fig. 6J and K). We have therefore demonstrated at least two novel functions for the Snapc2-Snapc4 interaction: proper transcription of the U4 and U5 snRNA genes and survival of biliary epithelial cells. We predict that downregulation of the snRNA genes affects biliary epithelial cell survival. However, since Snapc2 plays two roles in the cell, one as a subunit of the SNAPc and another as a factor for mitotic regulation (Shanmugam and Hernandez, 2008), we cannot exclude the possibility that Snapc2 regulates biliary epithelial cell survival independent of SNAPc and snRNA gene transcription.

Materials and Methods

Zebrafish husbandry

Zebrafish (Danio rerio) larvae were obtained from natural crosses of wild-type or heterozygous mutant fish, raised at 28.5°C and staged according to age (hours post-fertilization (hpf) at 28.5 °C) as previously described. The following transgenic and mutant lines were used in this study: Tg(fabp1a:DsRed; ela3l:EGFP)gz15 (Korzh et al., 2008); Tg(Tp1-MmHbb:EGFP)um14 (Parsons et al., 2009); Tg(kdrl:EGFP)s843 (Jin et al., 2005); Tg(gutGFP)s854 (also known as Tg(XlEef1a1:GFP)s854 ) (Field et al., 2003).

Immunohistochemistry, in situ cell detection and in situ hybridization

Immunohistochemistry was performed as previously described (Sakaguchi et al., 2008). Confocal images were obtained in a z-series by a TCS SP5 confocal microscope (Leica Microsystems). All confocal images were processed using Volocity software (PerkinElmer). In situ hybridization was performed as previously described (Sakaguchi et al., 2008).

Bulk segregant and linkage analysis

The heterozygous s445 fish carrying the Tg(gutGFP)s854 transgene were crossed to SJD strain to create a map cross. s445 mutant larvae were collected from the offspring of the map cross fish based on their Tg(gutGFP)s854 expression. Genomic DNA was isolated from individual mutant larvae by Proteinase K digestion. Using bulk segregant analysis, we initially mapped the s445 locus to linkage group 5 (between z21461 and z4299). We then collected more than 2000 mutants and performed linkage and recombinant analysis. We tested specific and potential polymorphic markers on linkage group 5 by PCR using genomic DNA of individual mutant larvae. We identified a polymorphic marker, CA-YE2 (5’- tcaaaggggagctaattattctgac-3’ and 5’-ggtgcactctttgcaaatcata-3’), as the most tightly linked marker to the s445 locus. The zebrafish snapc4 cDNA was amplified by PCR and cloned using PCRIITOPO (Invitrogen).

Genotyping of s445 mutants

In order to genotype s445 mutants, we used dCAPS primers (Neff et al., 1998) to introduce an s445 mutant allele specific restriction site in PCR products. PCR was performed with s445 dCAPS primers (5’-tcaacaacaatctctaccaccttctcat-3’ and 5’-cactaaatgttgcacttccc-3’) and the PCR product was digested with MseI.

Transmission electron micrograph (TEM)

Wild-type and s445 mutant larvae at 120 hpf were fixed in 4% glutaraldehyde in 0.2M sodium cacodylate (pH7.4) overnight at 4 °C. Samples were post-fixed in 1% osmium tetroxide for 1 h and incubated in 1% uranyl acetate in Maleate buffer for 1 h. Samples were dehydrated through an ethanol series, and embedded. Ultrathin sections of 85 nm were cut with diamond knife, and stained with uranyl acetate and lead citrate. Images were obtained with Philips CM12 electron microscope operated at 60 kV.

Real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase-PCR

Total RNA was isolated by the RNeasy kit (Qiagen) and cDNA was synthesized by miScript (Qiagen) according to the manufacturer’s instructions. SYBR green qPCR mix (SA Bioscience) was used to monitor real-time PCR on a 7500 real-time PCR system (Applied Biosystems). We used following primers: U1 (5’-TTACCTGGCAGGGGAGACACCA-3’ and 5’-CAGTCGAGATTCCCACATTTGG-3’); U2 (5’-TATCTGATACGTGCCCTACCCG-3’ and 5’-GGGTGCACCGTTCCCGGAAGTA-3’); U4 (5’-AGCTTTGCGCAGTGGCAGTATCG-3’ and 5’-TATCAGTCTCTGTCGAGACCGTC-3’); U6 (5’-CGCTACGGTGGCACATATAC-3’ and 5’- GAGCGCTTCACGGATTTG-3’); Large subunit ribosomal RNA (EF417169: 5’-TTGGGAATGCAGCCCAAAGCGG −3’ and 5’- ACCTCTCAACGGTTTCACGCCC −3’). The ΔΔCt method was used for relative quantification.

Northern blotting

Northern blotting was performed using a NorthernMax kit (Applied Biosystems) according to the manufacturer’s instruction.

Morpholino injection

Morpholinos were prepared and injected as previously described (Sakaguchi et al., 2006). We used following morpholinos in this study: 2 ng/embryo of snapc4 MO(A) 5’-AATCAACGCTATCAGGCTTACTTTG-3’; 2 ng/embryo snapc4 MO(B) 5’-GCATGCTGTCTTAATACGTACATCT-3’; 8 ng/embryo of snapc4 MO(C) 5’-CGCTTGTAAGTCGTCAGATGCCATT- 3’; 1 ng/embryo of snapc2 MO(A) 5’-TTCTCATACACACCTGGGAAAAGGC-3’; 1ng/embryo of snapc2 MO(B) 5’-TGTGAGCTTACCTGTTTGAGAGAAC-3’.

Morpholino specificity test

RT-PCR was used to test snapc2 MO(A) and snapc4 MO(B) specificity. Wild-type, snapc2 MO(A) and snapc4 MO(B) injected larvae were collected at 100 hpf and total RNA was isolated using the RNeasy kit (Qiagen). RT reactions were performed using SuperScriptII RT-PCR kit (Gibco BRL) according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. PCR was performed using following primer pairs: snapc2 (5’-AAGTTCCCATTGAAACCTGGG-3’ and 5’-TTAGGGGTGTGAGCAGGGTAAAGA-3’) and snapc4 (5’-CAGGCAACTCTATCTTCTCA −3’ and 5’-TTGATCGTCTTTCAGGGTTC-3’) to amplify snapc2 and snpac4 cDNA fragments, respectively.

Cloning and overexpression of the Snapc2 binding domain of Snapc4

cDNA corresponding to the snapc2 binding domain of snapc4 was amplified using following primers: snapc2BDF, GAATTCACCATGGAGTGGATGGATGGGAAAGGTG; snapc2BDR, CTCTCGAGCTAACTCAATAACTGACGTTCCT. The amplified PCR product was subcloned into the EcoRI-XhoI sites of pCS2+. Corresponding mRNA was synthesized as previously described (Sakaguchi et al., 2006). 100 pg per embryo of snapc2 binding domain mRNA was injected at the 1-cell stage.

Research Highlights

  • We identified a novel zebrafish mutation, snapc4s445.
  • The intrahepatic biliary network degenerates in snapc4s445 mutant larvae.
  • The snapc4s445 mutation deletes the Snapc2 interaction domain.
  • The Snapc4-Snapc2 interaction is important for the maintenance of the intrahepatic biliary network.

Supplementary Material





We thank Laura Nagy, Michele Pritchard, Allyson McCledon and Arthur McCullough for critical reading of the manuscript. We also thank Mei Yin and the Cleveland Clinic Imaging Core for TEM. This work was supported in part by an APS postdoctoral fellowship, an NIH K99/R00 award (DK078138), and a startup package from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation to T.F.S. This work was also supported by grants from the NIH (NIDDK) and Packard foundation to D.Y.R.S. The snapc4s445 mutation was identified and positionally cloned at UCSF by T.F.S. when he was a postdoctoral fellow in D.Y.R.S.’s lab; phenotypic analysis and further characterization of the snapc4s445 mutant was carried out both at UCSF and at Cleveland Clinic where T.F.S. is now an independent investigator.


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