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1.  Zebrafish Whole-Adult-Organism Chemogenomics for Large-Scale Predictive and Discovery Chemical Biology 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(7):e1000121.
The ability to perform large-scale, expression-based chemogenomics on whole adult organisms, as in invertebrate models (worm and fly), is highly desirable for a vertebrate model but its feasibility and potential has not been demonstrated. We performed expression-based chemogenomics on the whole adult organism of a vertebrate model, the zebrafish, and demonstrated its potential for large-scale predictive and discovery chemical biology. Focusing on two classes of compounds with wide implications to human health, polycyclic (halogenated) aromatic hydrocarbons [P(H)AHs] and estrogenic compounds (ECs), we generated robust prediction models that can discriminate compounds of the same class from those of different classes in two large independent experiments. The robust expression signatures led to the identification of biomarkers for potent aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and estrogen receptor (ER) agonists, respectively, and were validated in multiple targeted tissues. Knowledge-based data mining of human homologs of zebrafish genes revealed highly conserved chemical-induced biological responses/effects, health risks, and novel biological insights associated with AHR and ER that could be inferred to humans. Thus, our study presents an effective, high-throughput strategy of capturing molecular snapshots of chemical-induced biological states of a whole adult vertebrate that provides information on biomarkers of effects, deregulated signaling pathways, and possible affected biological functions, perturbed physiological systems, and increased health risks. These findings place zebrafish in a strategic position to bridge the wide gap between cell-based and rodent models in chemogenomics research and applications, especially in preclinical drug discovery and toxicology.
Author Summary
To understand chemical-induced biological responses/effects, it is important to have large-scale and rapid capacity to investigate gene expression changes caused by chemical compounds at genome-wide scale in an adult vertebrate model; this capability is essential for drug development and toxicology. Small aquarium fish with vast genomic resources, such as zebrafish, will probably be the only vertebrate models that allow for cost-effective, large-scale, genome-wide determination of gene expression net changes in the entire adult organism in response to a chemical compound. Presently, such a whole adult organism approach is only feasible in invertebrate models such as the worm and fly, and not in rodent models, hence the usefulness of such an approach has not been demonstrated in a vertebrate. By using two classes of chemicals with wide implications to human health, we showed that capturing net changes of gene expression at a genome-wide scale in an entire adult zebrafish is useful for predicting toxicity and chemical classes, for discovering biomarkers and major signaling pathways, as well as for inferring human health risk and new biological insights. Our study provides a new approach for genome-wide investigation of chemical-induced biological responses/effects in a whole adult vertebrate that can benefit the drug discovery process and chemical toxicity testing for environmental health risk inference.
PMCID: PMC2442223  PMID: 18618001
2.  Discovering novel neuroactive drugs through high-throughput behavior-based chemical screening in the zebrafish 
Most neuroactive drugs were discovered through unexpected behavioral observations. Systematic behavioral screening is inefficient in most model organisms. But, automated technologies are enabling a new phase of discovery-based research in central nervous system (CNS) pharmacology. Researchers are using large-scale behavior-based chemical screens in zebrafish to discover compounds with new structures, targets, and functions. These compounds are powerful tools for understanding CNS signaling pathways. Substantial differences between human and zebrafish biology will make it difficult to translate these discoveries to clinical medicine. However, given the molecular genetic similarities between humans and zebrafish, it is likely that some of these compounds will have translational utility. We predict that the greatest new successes in CNS drug discovery will leverage many model systems, including in vitro assays, cells, rodents, and zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC4109429  PMID: 25104936
behavior-based drug discovery; zebrafish; phenomics; antipsychotics; screening
3.  Challenges in understanding psychiatric disorders and developing therapeutics: a role for zebrafish 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2015;8(7):647-656.
The treatment of psychiatric disorders presents three major challenges to the research and clinical community: defining a genotype associated with a disorder, characterizing the molecular pathology of each disorder and developing new therapies. This Review addresses how cellular and animal systems can help to meet these challenges, with an emphasis on the role of the zebrafish. Genetic changes account for a large proportion of psychiatric disorders and, as gene variants that predispose to psychiatric disease are beginning to be identified in patients, these are tractable for study in cellular and animal systems. Defining cellular and molecular criteria associated with each disorder will help to uncover causal physiological changes in patients and will lead to more objective diagnostic criteria. These criteria should also define co-morbid pathologies within the nervous system or in other organ systems. The definition of genotypes and of any associated pathophysiology is integral to the development of new therapies. Cell culture-based approaches can address these challenges by identifying cellular pathology and by high-throughput screening of gene variants and potential therapeutics. Whole-animal systems can define the broadest function of disorder-associated gene variants and the organismal impact of candidate medications. Given its evolutionary conservation with humans and its experimental tractability, the zebrafish offers several advantages to psychiatric disorder research. These include assays ranging from molecular to behavioural, and capability for chemical screening. There is optimism that the multiple approaches discussed here will link together effectively to provide new diagnostics and treatments for psychiatric patients.
Summary: In this review, we discuss strengths and limitations of prevalent laboratory models that are used for understanding psychiatric disorders and developing therapeutics, with emphasis on the zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC4486859  PMID: 26092527
Zebrafish; Psychiatric disorders; Animal models; Co-morbidities; Chemical screens; Autism; Schizophrenia
4.  Three serendipitous pathways in E. coli can bypass a block in pyridoxal-5′-phosphate synthesis 
Overexpression of seven different genes restores growth of a ΔpdxB strain of E. coli, which cannot make pyridoxal phosphate (PLP), on M9/glucose.None of the enzymes encoded by these genes has a promiscuous 4-phosphoerythronate dehydrogenase activity that can replace the activity of PdxB.Overexpression of these genes restores PLP synthesis by three different serendipitous pathways that feed into the normal PLP synthesis pathway downstream of the blocked step.Reactions in one of these pathways are catalyzed by low-level activities of enzymes of unknown function and a promiscuous activity of an enzyme that normally has a role in another pathway; one reaction appears to be non-enzymatic.
Most metabolic enzymes are prodigious catalysts that have evolved to accelerate chemical reactions with high efficiency and specificity. However, many enzymes have inefficient promiscuous activities, as well, as a result of the assemblage of highly reactive catalytic residues and cofactors in active sites. Although promiscuous activities are generally orders of magnitude less efficient than well-evolved activities (O'Brien and Herschlag, 1998, 2001; Wang et al, 2003; Taylor Ringia et al, 2004), they often enhance reaction rates by orders of magnitude relative to those of uncatalyzed reactions (O'Brien and Herschlag, 1998, 2001). Thus, promiscuous activities provide a reservoir of novel catalytic activities that can be recruited to serve new functions.
The evolutionary potential of promiscuous enzymes extends beyond the recruitment of single enzymes to serve new functions. Microbes contain hundreds of enzymes—E. coli contains about 1700 (Freilich et al, 2005)—raising the possibility that promiscuous enzymes can be patched together to generate ‘serendipitous' pathways that are not part of normal metabolism. We distinguish serendipitous pathways from latent or cryptic pathways, which are bona fide pathways involving dedicated enzymes that are produced only under particular environmental circumstances. In contrast, serendipitous pathways are patched together from enzymes that normally serve other functions and are not regulated in a coordinated manner in response to the need to synthesize or degrade a metabolite.
In this study, we describe the discovery of three serendipitous pathways that allow synthesis of pyridoxal phosphate (PLP) in a strain of E. coli that lacks 4-phosphoerythronate dehydrogenase (PdxB) when one of the seven different genes is overexpressed. These genes were identified in a multicopy suppression experiment in which a library of E. coli genes (from the ASKA collection) was introduced into a ΔpdxB strain of E. coli that is unable to synthesize PLP. Surprisingly, none of the enzymes encoded by these genes has a promiscuous 4-phosphoerythronate (4PE) dehydrogenase activity that can substitute for the missing PdxB. Rather, overproduction of these enzymes appears to facilitate at least three serendipitous pathways that draw material from other metabolic pathways and feed into the normal PLP synthesis pathway downstream of the blocked step (Figure 1).
We have characterized one of these pathways in detail (Figure 3). The first step, dephosphorylation of 3-phosphohydroxypyruvate, is catalyzed by YeaB, a predicted NUDIX hydrolase of unknown function. Although catalysis is inefficient (kcat=5.7×10−5 s−1 and kcat/KM>0.028 M−1 s−1), the enzymatic rate is 4×107-fold faster than the rate of the uncatalyzed reaction, and is sufficient to support PLP synthesis when YeaB is overproduced. The second step in the pathway is decarboxylation of 3-hydroxypyruvate (3HP). Although we found two enzymes (1-deoxyxylulose-5-phosphate synthase and the catalytic domain of α-ketoglutarate dehydrogenase) that catalyze this reaction with low but respectable activity in vitro, their involvement in pathway 1 was ruled out by genetic methods. Surprisingly, the non-enzymatic rate of decarboxylation of 3HP appears to be sufficient to support PLP synthesis. The third step in the pathway, condensation of glycolaldehyde and glycine to form 4-hydroxy-L-threonine, is catalyzed by LtaE, a low-specificity threonine aldolase whose physiological role is not known. The final step, phosphorylation of 4-hydroxy-L-threonine, is catalyzed by homoserine kinase (ThrB), which is required for synthesis of threonine. The promiscuous phosphorylation of 4-hydroxy-L-threonine is 80-fold slower than the physiological phosphorylation of homoserine. The involvement of LtaE and ThrB in pathway 1 was confirmed by genetic experiments showing that overexpression of yeaB no longer restores growth of ΔpdxB strains lacking either ltaE or thrB.
Although pathway 1 is inefficient, it provides the ΔpdxB strain with the ability to grow under conditions in which survival is otherwise impossible. In general, serendipitous assembly of an inefficient pathway from promiscuous activities of available enzymes will be important whenever the pathway provides increased fitness. This might occur when a critical metabolite is no longer available from the environment, and survival depends on assembly of a new biosynthetic pathway. A second circumstance in which an inefficient serendipitous pathway might improve fitness is the appearance of a novel compound in the environment that can be exploited as a source of carbon, nitrogen or phosphorous. Finally, chemotherapeutic agents that block metabolic pathways in bacteria or cancer cells could provide selective pressure for assembly of serendipitous pathways that allow synthesis of the end product of the blocked pathway and thus a previously unappreciated source of drug resistance. In all of these cases, even an inefficient pathway can provide a selective advantage over other cells in a particular environmental niche, allowing survival and subsequent mutations that elevate the efficiency of the pathway.
Our work is consistent with the hypothesis that the recognized metabolic network of E. coli is underlain by a denser network of reactions due to promiscuous enzymes that use and generate recognized metabolites, but also unusual metabolites that normally have no physiological role. The findings reported here highlight the abundance of cryptic capabilities in the E. coli proteome that can be drawn on to generate novel pathways. Such pathways could provide a starting place for assembly of more efficient pathways, both in nature and in the hands of metabolic engineers.
Bacterial genomes encode hundreds to thousands of enzymes, most of which are specialized for particular functions. However, most enzymes have inefficient promiscuous activities, as well, that generally serve no purpose. Promiscuous reactions can be patched together to form multistep metabolic pathways. Mutations that increase expression or activity of enzymes in such serendipitous pathways can elevate flux through the pathway to a physiologically significant level. In this study, we describe the discovery of three serendipitous pathways that allow synthesis of pyridoxal-5′-phosphate (PLP) in a strain of E. coli that lacks 4-phosphoerythronate (4PE) dehydrogenase (PdxB) when one of seven different genes is overexpressed. We have characterized one of these pathways in detail. This pathway diverts material from serine biosynthesis and generates an intermediate in the normal PLP synthesis pathway downstream of the block caused by lack of PdxB. Steps in the pathway are catalyzed by a protein of unknown function, a broad-specificity enzyme whose physiological role is unknown, and a promiscuous activity of an enzyme that normally serves another function. One step in the pathway may be non-enzymatic.
PMCID: PMC3010111  PMID: 21119630
metabolic bypass; multicopy suppression; promiscuity; pyridoxal-5′-phosphate; serendipitous pathway
5.  Identification and developmental expression of the full complement of Cytochrome P450 genes in Zebrafish 
BMC Genomics  2010;11:643.
Increasing use of zebrafish in drug discovery and mechanistic toxicology demands knowledge of cytochrome P450 (CYP) gene regulation and function. CYP enzymes catalyze oxidative transformation leading to activation or inactivation of many endogenous and exogenous chemicals, with consequences for normal physiology and disease processes. Many CYPs potentially have roles in developmental specification, and many chemicals that cause developmental abnormalities are substrates for CYPs. Here we identify and annotate the full suite of CYP genes in zebrafish, compare these to the human CYP gene complement, and determine the expression of CYP genes during normal development.
Zebrafish have a total of 94 CYP genes, distributed among 18 gene families found also in mammals. There are 32 genes in CYP families 5 to 51, most of which are direct orthologs of human CYPs that are involved in endogenous functions including synthesis or inactivation of regulatory molecules. The high degree of sequence similarity suggests conservation of enzyme activities for these CYPs, confirmed in reports for some steroidogenic enzymes (e.g. CYP19, aromatase; CYP11A, P450scc; CYP17, steroid 17a-hydroxylase), and the CYP26 retinoic acid hydroxylases. Complexity is much greater in gene families 1, 2, and 3, which include CYPs prominent in metabolism of drugs and pollutants, as well as of endogenous substrates. There are orthologous relationships for some CYP1 s and some CYP3 s between zebrafish and human. In contrast, zebrafish have 47 CYP2 genes, compared to 16 in human, with only two (CYP2R1 and CYP2U1) recognized as orthologous based on sequence. Analysis of shared synteny identified CYP2 gene clusters evolutionarily related to mammalian CYP2 s, as well as unique clusters.
Transcript profiling by microarray and quantitative PCR revealed that the majority of zebrafish CYP genes are expressed in embryos, with waves of expression of different sets of genes over the course of development. Transcripts of some CYP occur also in oocytes. The results provide a foundation for the use of zebrafish as a model in toxicological, pharmacological and chemical disease research.
PMCID: PMC3012610  PMID: 21087487
6.  From Omics to Drug Metabolism and High Content Screen of Natural Product in Zebrafish: A New Model for Discovery of Neuroactive Compound 
The zebrafish (Danio rerio) has recently become a common model in the fields of genetics, environmental science, toxicology, and especially drug screening. Zebrafish has emerged as a biomedically relevant model for in vivo high content drug screening and the simultaneous determination of multiple efficacy parameters, including behaviour, selectivity, and toxicity in the content of the whole organism. A zebrafish behavioural assay has been demonstrated as a novel, rapid, and high-throughput approach to the discovery of neuroactive, psychoactive, and memory-modulating compounds. Recent studies found a functional similarity of drug metabolism systems in zebrafish and mammals, providing a clue with why some compounds are active in zebrafish in vivo but not in vitro, as well as providing grounds for the rationales supporting the use of a zebrafish screen to identify prodrugs. Here, we discuss the advantages of the zebrafish model for evaluating drug metabolism and the mode of pharmacological action with the emerging omics approaches. Why this model is suitable for identifying lead compounds from natural products for therapy of disorders with multifactorial etiopathogenesis and imbalance of angiogenesis, such as Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, cardiotoxicity, cerebral hemorrhage, dyslipidemia, and hyperlipidemia, is addressed.
PMCID: PMC3420231  PMID: 22919414
7.  Facilitating Drug Discovery: An Automated High-content Inflammation Assay in Zebrafish 
Zebrafish larvae are particularly amenable to whole animal small molecule screens1,2 due to their small size and relative ease of manipulation and observation, as well as the fact that compounds can simply be added to the bathing water and are readily absorbed when administered in a <1% DMSO solution. Due to the optical clarity of zebrafish larvae and the availability of transgenic lines expressing fluorescent proteins in leukocytes, zebrafish offer the unique advantage of monitoring an acute inflammatory response in vivo. Consequently, utilizing the zebrafish for high-content small molecule screens aiming at the identification of immune-modulatory compounds with high throughput has been proposed3-6, suggesting inflammation induction scenarios e.g. localized nicks in fin tissue, laser damage directed to the yolk surface of embryos7 or tailfin amputation3,5,6. The major drawback of these methods however was the requirement of manual larva manipulation to induce wounding, thus preventing high-throughput screening. Introduction of the chemically induced inflammation (ChIn) assay8 eliminated these obstacles. Since wounding is inflicted chemically the number of embryos that can be treated simultaneously is virtually unlimited. Temporary treatment of zebrafish larvae with copper sulfate selectively induces cell death in hair cells of the lateral line system and results in rapid granulocyte recruitment to injured neuromasts. The inflammatory response can be followed in real-time by using compound transgenic cldnB::GFP/lysC::DsRED26,9 zebrafish larvae that express a green fluorescent protein in neuromast cells, as well as a red fluorescent protein labeling granulocytes.
In order to devise a screening strategy that would allow both high-content and high-throughput analyses we introduced robotic liquid handling and combined automated microscopy with a custom developed software script. This script enables automated quantification of the inflammatory response by scoring the percent area occupied by red fluorescent leukocytes within an empirically defined area surrounding injured green fluorescent neuromasts. Furthermore, we automated data processing, handling, visualization, and storage all based on custom developed MATLAB and Python scripts.
In brief, we introduce an automated HC/HT screen that allows testing of chemical compounds for their effect on initiation, progression or resolution of a granulocytic inflammatory response. This protocol serves a good starting point for more in-depth analyses of drug mechanisms and pathways involved in the orchestration of an innate immune response. In the future, it may help identifying intolerable toxic or off-target effects at earlier phases of drug discovery and thereby reduce procedural risks and costs for drug development.
PMCID: PMC3476412  PMID: 22825322
Immunology;  Issue 65;  Molecular Biology;  Genetics;  Zebrafish;  Inflammation;  Drug discovery;  HCS;  High Content Screening;  Automated Microscopy;  high throughput
8.  Zebrafish regenerate full thickness optic nerve myelin after demyelination, but this fails with increasing age 
In the human demyelinating central nervous system (CNS) disease multiple sclerosis, remyelination promotes recovery and limits neurodegeneration, but this is inefficient and always ultimately fails. Furthermore, these regenerated myelin sheaths are thinner and shorter than the original, leaving the underlying axons potentially vulnerable. In rodent models, CNS remyelination is more efficient, so that in young animals (but not old) the number of myelinated axons is efficiently restored to normal, but in both young and old rodents, regenerated myelin sheaths are still short and thin. The reasons for these differences in remyelination efficiency, the thinner remyelinated myelin sheaths compared to developmental myelin and the subsequent effect on the underlying axon are unclear. We studied CNS remyelination in the highly regenerative adult zebrafish (Danio rerio), to better understand mechanisms of what we hypothesised would be highly efficient remyelination, and to identify differences to mammalian CNS remyelination, as larval zebrafish are increasingly used for high throughput screens to identify potential drug targets to improve myelination and remyelination.
We developed a novel method to induce a focal demyelinating lesion in adult zebrafish optic nerve with no discernible axonal damage, and describe the cellular changes over time. Remyelination is indeed efficient in both young and old adult zebrafish optic nerves, and at 4 weeks after demyelination, the number of myelinated axons is restored to normal, but internode lengths are short. However, unlike in rodents or in humans, in young zebrafish these regenerated myelin sheaths were of normal thickness, whereas in aged zebrafish, they were thin, and remained so even 3 months later. This inability to restore normal myelin thickness in remyelination with age was associated with a reduced macrophage/microglial response.
Zebrafish are able to efficiently restore normal thickness myelin around optic nerve axons after demyelination, unlike in mammals. However, this fails with age, when only thin myelin is achieved. This gives us a novel model to try and dissect the mechanism for restoring myelin thickness in CNS remyelination.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s40478-014-0077-y) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4164766  PMID: 25022486
9.  Combining Motion Analysis and Microfluidics – A Novel Approach for Detecting Whole-Animal Responses to Test Substances 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e113235.
Small, early life stages, such as zebrafish embryos are increasingly used to assess the biological effects of chemical compounds in vivo. However, behavioural screens of such organisms are challenging in terms of both data collection (culture techniques, drug delivery and imaging) and data evaluation (very large data sets), restricting the use of high throughput systems compared to in vitro assays. Here, we combine the use of a microfluidic flow-through culture system, or BioWell plate, with a novel motion analysis technique, (sparse optic flow - SOF) followed by spectral analysis (discrete Fourier transformation - DFT), as a first step towards automating data extraction and analysis for such screenings. Replicate zebrafish embryos housed in a BioWell plate within a custom-built imaging system were subject to a chemical exposure (1.5% ethanol). Embryo movement was videoed before (30 min), during (60 min) and after (60 min) exposure and SOF was then used to extract data on movement (angles of rotation and angular changes to the centre of mass of embryos). DFT was subsequently used to quantify the movement patterns exhibited during these periods and Multidimensional Scaling and ANOSIM were used to test for differences. Motion analysis revealed that zebrafish had significantly altered movements during both the second half of the alcohol exposure period and also the second half of the recovery period compared to their pre-treatment movements. Manual quantification of tail flicking revealed the same differences between exposure-periods as detected using the automated approach. However, the automated approach also incorporates other movements visible in the organism such as blood flow and heart beat, and has greater power to discern environmentally-driven changes in the behaviour and physiology of organisms. We suggest that combining these technologies could provide a highly efficient, high throughput assay, for assessing whole embryo responses to various drugs and chemicals.
PMCID: PMC4251981  PMID: 25464030
10.  Miniaturized Embryo Array for Automated Trapping, Immobilization and Microperfusion of Zebrafish Embryos 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36630.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio) has recently emerged as a powerful experimental model in drug discovery and environmental toxicology. Drug discovery screens performed on zebrafish embryos mirror with a high level of accuracy the tests usually performed on mammalian animal models, and fish embryo toxicity assay (FET) is one of the most promising alternative approaches to acute ecotoxicity testing with adult fish. Notwithstanding this, automated in-situ analysis of zebrafish embryos is still deeply in its infancy. This is mostly due to the inherent limitations of conventional techniques and the fact that metazoan organisms are not easily susceptible to laboratory automation. In this work, we describe the development of an innovative miniaturized chip-based device for the in-situ analysis of zebrafish embryos. We present evidence that automatic, hydrodynamic positioning, trapping and long-term immobilization of single embryos inside the microfluidic chips can be combined with time-lapse imaging to provide real-time developmental analysis. Our platform, fabricated using biocompatible polymer molding technology, enables rapid trapping of embryos in low shear stress zones, uniform drug microperfusion and high-resolution imaging without the need of manual embryo handling at various developmental stages. The device provides a highly controllable fluidic microenvironment and post-analysis eleuthero-embryo stage recovery. Throughout the incubation, the position of individual embryos is registered. Importantly, we also for first time show that microfluidic embryo array technology can be effectively used for the analysis of anti-angiogenic compounds using transgenic zebrafish line (fli1a:EGFP). The work provides a new rationale for rapid and automated manipulation and analysis of developing zebrafish embryos at a large scale.
PMCID: PMC3351474  PMID: 22606275
11.  Using the Zebrafish Photomotor Response for Psychotropic Drug Screening 
Methods in cell biology  2011;105:517-524.
Because psychotropic drugs affect behavior, we can use changes in behavior to discover psychotropic drugs. The original prototypes of most neuroactive medicines were discovered in humans, rodents and other model organisms. Most of these discoveries were made by chance, but the process of behavior based drug discovery can be made more systematic and efficient. Fully automated platforms for analyzing the behavior of embryonic zebrafish capture digital video recordings of animals in each individual well of a 96-well plate before, during, and after a series of stimuli. To analyze systematically the thousands of behavioral recordings obtained from a large-scale chemical screen, we transform these behavioral recordings into numerical barcodes, providing a concise and interpretable summary of the observed phenotypes in each well. Systems-level analysis of these behavioral phenotypes generate testable hypotheses about the molecular mechanisms of poorly understood drugs and behaviors. By combining the in vivo relevance of behavior-based phenotyping with the scale and automation of modern drug screening technologies, systematic behavioral barcoding represents a means of discovering psychotropic drugs and provides a powerful, systematic approach for unraveling the complexities of vertebrate behavior.
PMCID: PMC3635141  PMID: 21951545
12.  Small molecule screening in zebrafish: an in vivo approach to identifying new chemical tools and drug leads 
In the past two decades, zebrafish genetic screens have identified a wealth of mutations that have been essential to the understanding of development and disease biology. More recently, chemical screens in zebrafish have identified small molecules that can modulate specific developmental and behavioural processes. Zebrafish are a unique vertebrate system in which to study chemical genetic systems, identify drug leads, and explore new applications for known drugs. Here, we discuss some of the advantages of using zebrafish in chemical biology, and describe some important and creative examples of small molecule screening, drug discovery and target identification.
PMCID: PMC2912314  PMID: 20540792
13.  “Casting” light on the role of glycosylation during embryonic development: Insights from zebrafish 
Glycoconjugate journal  2012;30(1):33-40.
Zebrafish (Danio rerio) remains a versatile model organism for the investigation of early development and organogenesis, and has emerged as a valuable platform for drug discovery and toxicity evaluation [1–6]. Harnessing the genetic power and experimental accessibility of this system, three decades of research have identified key genes and pathways that control the development of multiple organ systems and tissues, including the heart, kidney, and craniofacial cartilage, as well as the hematopoietic, vascular, and central and peripheral nervous systems [7–31]. In addition to their application in large mutagenic screens, zebrafish has been used to model a variety of diseases such as diabetes, polycystic kidney disease, muscular dystrophy and cancer [32–36]. As this work continues to intersect with cellular pathways and processes such as lipid metabolism, glycosylation and vesicle trafficking, investigators are often faced with the challenge of determining the degree to which these pathways are functionally conserved in zebrafish. While they share a high degree of genetic homology with mouse and human, the manner in which cellular pathways are regulated in zebrafish during early development, and the differences in the organ physiology, warrant consideration before functional studies can be effectively interpreted and compared with other vertebrate systems. This point is particularly relevant for glycosylation since an understanding of the glycan diversity and the mechanisms that control glycan biosynthesis during zebrafish embryogenesis (as in many organisms) is still developing.
Nonetheless, a growing number of studies in zebrafish have begun to cast light on the functional roles of specific classes of glycans during organ and tissue development. While many of the initial efforts involved characterizing identified mutants in a number of glycosylation pathways, the use of reverse genetic approaches to directly model glycosylation-related disorders is now increasingly popular. In this review, the glycomics of zebrafish and the developmental expression of their glycans will be briefly summarized along with recent chemical biology approaches to visualize certain classes of glycans within developing embryos. Work regarding the role of protein-bound glycans and glycosaminoglycans (GAG) in zebrafish development and organogenesis will also be highlighted. Lastly, future opportunities and challenges in the expanding field of zebrafish glycobiology are discussed.
PMCID: PMC3718303  PMID: 22638861
Zebrafish; Glycosylation; Development; Sialylation; Glycosaminoglycans; N-glycans; Mucins; Cartilage
14.  Drug Discovery in Psychiatric Illness: Mining for Gold 
Schizophrenia Bulletin  2009;35(2):287-292.
The discovery of truly efficacious treatments that lead to full recovery is a daunting task in psychiatric illness. A systems-based orientation to in vivo pharmacology has been suggested as a way to transform psychiatric drug discovery and development. A critical catalyst in the success of recent systems biology efforts has been the incorporation of data mining strategies. Our approach to the drug discovery problem has been to utilize the whole animal to provide a systems response that is subsequently mined for predictive attributes with known psychopharmacological value. Our in vivo data mining approach, termed Pattern Array, establishes a framework for screening novel chemical entities based upon a response that represents the net pharmacological effect on the system of interest, namely the central nervous system (CNS). Large scale screening of small molecules by non-conventional approaches such as this at a systems level may improve the identification of novel chemical entities with psychiatric utility. This type of approach will compliment the more labor-intensive models based upon construct validity. It will take the collective effort of many disciplines and numerous strategies in close association with clinical colleagues to address quality of life issues and breakthrough treatment barriers in psychiatric illness.
PMCID: PMC2659322  PMID: 19297381
Data mining; animal model; systems biology; exploratory behavior; Pattern Array; SEE
15.  Automated image-based phenotypic analysis in zebrafish embryos 
Presently, the zebrafish is the only vertebrate model compatible with contemporary paradigms of drug discovery. Zebrafish embryos are amenable to automation necessary for high-throughput chemical screens, and optical transparency makes them potentially suited for image-based screening. However, the lack of tools for automated analysis of complex images presents an obstacle to utilizing the zebrafish as a high-throughput screening model. We have developed an automated system for imaging and analyzing zebrafish embryos in multi-well plates regardless of embryo orientation and without user intervention. Images of fluorescent embryos were acquired on a high-content reader and analyzed using an artificial intelligence-based image analysis method termed Cognition Network Technology (CNT). CNT reliably detected transgenic fluorescent embryos (Tg(fli1:EGFP)y1) arrayed in 96-well plates and quantified intersegmental blood vessel development in embryos treated with small molecule inhibitors of anigiogenesis. The results demonstrate it is feasible to adapt image-based high-content screening methodology to measure complex whole organism phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC2861575  PMID: 19235725
cognition network technology; high-content screening; angiogenesis; pironetin; zebrafish
16.  Optimisation of Embryonic and Larval ECG Measurement in Zebrafish for Quantifying the Effect of QT Prolonging Drugs 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e60552.
Effective chemical compound toxicity screening is of paramount importance for safe cardiac drug development. Using mammals in preliminary screening for detection of cardiac dysfunction by electrocardiography (ECG) is costly and requires a large number of animals. Alternatively, zebrafish embryos can be used as the ECG waveform is similar to mammals, a minimal amount of chemical is necessary for drug testing, while embryos are abundant, inexpensive and represent replacement in animal research with reduced bioethical concerns. We demonstrate here the utility of pre-feeding stage zebrafish larvae in detection of cardiac dysfunction by electrocardiography. We have optimised an ECG recording system by addressing key parameters such as the form of immobilization, recording temperature, electrode positioning and developmental age. Furthermore, analysis of 3 days post fertilization (dpf) zebrafish embryos treated with known QT prolonging drugs such as terfenadine, verapamil and haloperidol led to reproducible detection of QT prolongation as previously shown for adult zebrafish. In addition, calculation of Z-factor scores revealed that the assay was sensitive and specific enough to detect large drug-induced changes in QTc intervals. Thus, the ECG recording system is a useful drug-screening tool to detect alteration to cardiac cycle components and secondary effects such as heart block and arrhythmias in zebrafish larvae before free feeding stage, and thus provides a suitable replacement for mammalian experimentation.
PMCID: PMC3620317  PMID: 23579446
17.  Phenotype-driven chemical screening in zebrafish for compounds that inhibit collective cell migration identifies multiple pathways potentially involved in metastatic invasion 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2015;8(6):565-576.
In the last decade, high-throughput chemical screening has become the dominant approach for discovering novel compounds with therapeutic properties. Automated screening using in vitro or cultured cell assays have yielded thousands of candidate drugs for a variety of biological targets, but these approaches have not resulted in an increase in drug discovery despite major increases in expenditures. In contrast, phenotype-driven screens have shown a much stronger success rate, which is why we developed an in vivo assay using transgenic zebrafish with a GFP-marked migrating posterior lateral line primordium (PLLp) to identify compounds that influence collective cell migration. We then conducted a high-throughput screen using a compound library of 2160 annotated bioactive synthetic compounds and 800 natural products to identify molecules that block normal PLLp migration. We identified 165 compounds that interfere with primordium migration without overt toxicity in vivo. Selected compounds were confirmed in their migration-blocking activity by using additional assays for cell migration. We then proved the screen to be successful in identifying anti-metastatic compounds active in vivo by performing orthotopic tumor implantation assays in mice. We demonstrated that the Src inhibitor SU6656, identified in our screen, can be used to suppress the metastatic capacity of a highly aggressive mammary tumor cell line. Finally, we used CRISPR/Cas9-targeted mutagenesis in zebrafish to genetically validate predicted targets of compounds. This approach demonstrates that the migrating PLLp in zebrafish can be used for large-scale, high-throughput screening for compounds that inhibit collective cell migration and, potentially, anti-metastatic compounds.
Summary: We have developed a phenotype-driven screen for identifying new inhibitors of collective cell migration and demonstrated the screen can successfully identify compounds active in vivo and potentially new pathways for targeting cancer metastasis.
PMCID: PMC4457032  PMID: 25810455
Drug screening; Metastasis; Orthotopic implantation; Src; Tks5; Zebrafish
18.  Zebrafish: an emerging technology for in vivo pharmacological assessment to identify potential safety liabilities in early drug discovery 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2008;154(7):1400-1413.
The zebrafish is a well-established model organism used in developmental biology. In the last decade, this technology has been extended to the generation of high-value knowledge on safety risks of novel drugs. Indeed, the larval zebrafish appear to combine advantages of whole organism phenotypic assays and those (rapid production of results with minimal resource engagement) of in vitro high-throughput screening techniques. Thus, if appropriately evaluated, it can offer undeniable advantages in drug discovery for identification of target and off-target effects. Here, we review some applications of zebrafish to identify potential safety liabilities, particularly before lead/candidate selection. For instance, zebrafish cardiovascular system can be used to reveal decreases in heart rate and atrial–ventricular dissociation, which may signal human ether-a-go-go-related gene (hERG) channel blockade. Another main area of interest is the CNS, where zebrafish behavioural assays have been and are further being developed into screening platforms for assessment of locomotor activity, convulsant and proconvulsant liability, cognitive impairment, drug dependence potential and impaired visual and auditory functions. Zebrafish also offer interesting possibilities for evaluating effects on bone density and gastrointestinal function. Furthermore, available knowledge of the renal system in larval zebrafish can allow identification of potential safety issues of drug candidates on this often neglected area in early development platforms. Although additional validation is certainly needed, the zebrafish is emerging as a versatile in vivo animal model to identify off-target effects that need investigation and further clarification early in the drug discovery process to reduce the current, high degree of attrition in development.
PMCID: PMC2492106  PMID: 18552866
zebrafish; safety pharmacology; liability; high throughput; model organism
19.  Abcb4 acts as multixenobiotic transporter and active barrier against chemical uptake in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos 
BMC Biology  2013;11:69.
In mammals, ABCB1 constitutes a cellular “first line of defense” against a wide array of chemicals and drugs conferring cellular multidrug or multixenobiotic resistance (MDR/MXR). We tested the hypothesis that an ABCB1 ortholog serves as protection for the sensitive developmental processes in zebrafish embryos against adverse compounds dissolved in the water.
Indication for ABCB1-type efflux counteracting the accumulation of chemicals in zebrafish embryos comes from experiments with fluorescent and toxic transporter substrates and inhibitors. With inhibitors present, levels of fluorescent dyes in embryo tissue and sensitivity of embryos to toxic substrates were generally elevated. We verified two predicted sequences from zebrafish, previously annotated as abcb1, by cloning; our synteny analyses, however, identified them as abcb4 and abcb5, respectively. The abcb1 gene is absent in the zebrafish genome and we explored whether instead Abcb4 and/or Abcb5 show toxicant defense properties. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) analyses showed the presence of transcripts of both genes throughout the first 48 hours of zebrafish development. Similar to transporter inhibitors, morpholino knock-down of Abcb4 increased accumulation of fluorescent substrates in embryo tissue and sensitivity of embryos toward toxic compounds. In contrast, morpholino knock-down of Abcb5 did not exert this effect. ATPase assays with recombinant protein obtained with the baculovirus expression system confirmed that dye and toxic compounds act as substrates of zebrafish Abcb4 and inhibitors block its function. The compounds tested comprised model substrates of human ABCB1, namely the fluorescent dyes rhodamine B and calcein-am and the toxic compounds vinblastine, vincristine and doxorubicin; cyclosporin A, PSC833, MK571 and verapamil were applied as inhibitors. Additionally, tests were performed with ecotoxicologically relevant compounds: phenanthrene (a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) and galaxolide and tonalide (two polycyclic musks).
We show that zebrafish Abcb4 is a cellular toxicant transporter and provides protection of embryos against toxic chemicals dissolved in the water. Zebrafish Abcb4 thus is functionally similar to mammalian ABCB1, but differs from mammalian ABCB4, which is not involved in cellular resistance to chemicals but specifically transports phospholipids in the liver. Our data have important implications: Abcb4 could affect bioavailability - and thus toxicologic and pharmacologic potency - of chemicals to zebrafish embryos and inhibition of Abcb4 therefore causes chemosensitization, that is, enhanced sensitivity of embryos to toxicants. These aspects should be considered in (eco)toxicologic and pharmacologic chemical screens with the zebrafish embryo, a major vertebrate model.
PMCID: PMC3765700  PMID: 23773777
Abcb4; Abcb5; Chemosensitization; Efflux transporters; Environment-tissue barrier; Multixenobiotic resistance; MXR; P-glycoprotein
20.  Hematopoietic stem cells, hematopoiesis and disease: lessons from the zebrafish model 
Genome Medicine  2011;3(12):83.
The zebrafish model is rapidly gaining prominence in the study of development, hematopoiesis, and disease. The zebrafish provides distinct advantages over other vertebrate models during early embryonic development by producing transparent, externally fertilized embryos. Embryonic zebrafish are easily visualized and manipulated through microinjection, chemical treatment, and mutagenesis. These procedures have contributed to large-scale chemical, suppressor, and genetic screens to identify hematopoietic gene mutations. Genomic conservation and local synteny between the human and zebrafish genomes make genome-scale and epigenetic analysis of these mutations (by microarray, chromatin immunoprecipitation sequencing, and RNA sequencing procedures) powerful methods for translational research and medical discovery. In addition, large-scale screening techniques have resulted in the identification of several small molecules capable of rescuing hematopoietic defects and inhibiting disease. Here, we discuss the contributions of the zebrafish model to the understanding of hematopoiesis, hematopoietic stem cell development, and disease-related discovery. We also highlight the recent discovery of small molecules with clinical promise, such as dimethyl prostaglandin E2, 3F8, and thiazole-carboxamide 10A.
PMCID: PMC3334548  PMID: 22206610
Chemical screen, disease; fate mapping; hematopoiesis; HSCs; morpholino; mutagenesis; suppressor screen; transplantation; zebrafish
21.  Optimization and Pharmacological Validation of a Leukocyte Migration Assay in Zebrafish Larvae for the Rapid In Vivo Bioactivity Analysis of Anti-Inflammatory Secondary Metabolites 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e75404.
Over the past decade, zebrafish (Danio rerio) have emerged as an attractive model for in vivo drug discovery. In this study, we explore the suitability of zebrafish larvae to rapidly evaluate the anti-inflammatory activity of natural products (NPs) and medicinal plants used in traditional medicine for the treatment of inflammatory disorders. First, we optimized a zebrafish assay for leukocyte migration. Inflammation was induced in four days post-fertilization (dpf) zebrafish larvae by tail transection and co-incubation with bacterial lipopolysaccharides (LPS), resulting in a robust recruitment of leukocytes to the zone of injury. Migrating zebrafish leukocytes were detected in situ by myeloperoxidase (MPO) staining, and anti-inflammatory activity was semi-quantitatively scored using a standardized scale of relative leukocyte migration (RLM). Pharmacological validation of this optimized assay was performed with a panel of anti-inflammatory drugs, demonstrating a concentration-responsive inhibition of leukocyte migration for both steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (SAIDs and NSAIDs). Subsequently, we evaluated the bioactivity of structurally diverse NPs with well-documented anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, we further used this zebrafish-based assay to quantify the anti-inflammatory activity in the aqueous and methanolic extracts of several medicinal plants. Our results indicate the suitability of this LPS-enhanced leukocyte migration assay in zebrafish larvae as a front-line screening platform in NP discovery, including for the bioassay-guided isolation of anti-inflammatory secondary metabolites from complex NP extracts.
PMCID: PMC3790782  PMID: 24124487
22.  Zebrafish models for translational neuroscience research: from tank to bedside 
Trends in neurosciences  2014;37(5):264-278.
The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is emerging as a new important species for studying mechanisms of brain function and dysfunction. Focusing on selected central nervous system (CNS) disorders (brain cancer, epilepsy, and anxiety) and using them as examples, we discuss the value of zebrafish models in translational neuroscience. We further evaluate the contribution of zebrafish to neuroimaging, circuit level, and drug discovery research. Outlining the role of zebrafish in modeling a wide range of human brain disorders, we also summarize recent applications and existing challenges in this field. Finally, we emphasize the potential of zebrafish models in behavioral phenomics and high-throughput genetic/small molecule screening, which is critical for CNS drug discovery and identifying novel candidate genes.
PMCID: PMC4039217  PMID: 24726051
brain disorders; anxiety; epilepsy; cancer; zebrafish; biomarkers
23.  Zebrafish as a model for normal and malignant hematopoiesis 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2011;4(4):433-438.
Zebrafish studies in the past two decades have made major contributions to our understanding of hematopoiesis and its associated disorders. The zebrafish has proven to be a powerful organism for studies in this area owing to its amenability to large-scale genetic and chemical screening. In addition, the externally fertilized and transparent embryos allow convenient genetic manipulation and in vivo imaging of normal and aberrant hematopoiesis. This review discusses available methods for studying hematopoiesis in zebrafish, summarizes key recent advances in this area, and highlights the current and potential contributions of zebrafish to the discovery and development of drugs to treat human blood disorders.
PMCID: PMC3124047  PMID: 21708900
24.  Zebrafish as model organisms for studying drug induced liver injury 
Drug induced liver injury (DILI) is a major challenge in clinical medicine and drug development. New models are needed for predicting which potential therapeutic compounds will cause DILI in humans, and new markers and mediators of DILI still need to be identified. This review will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of using zebrafish as a high throughput in vivo model for studying DILI. Although the zebrafish liver architecture is different to the mammalian liver, the main physiological processes remain similar. Zebrafish metabolize drugs using similar pathways as humans; they possess a wide range of cytochrome P450 enzymes enabling metabolic reactions including hydroxylation, conjugation, oxidation, demethylation and de-ethylation. Following exposure to a range of liver toxic drugs, the zebrafish liver develops histological patterns of injury comparable to mammals and liver injury biomarkers can be quantified in the zebrafish circulation. The zebrafish immune system is similar to mammals, but the zebrafish inflammatory response to DILI is not yet defined. To quantify DILI in zebrafish a wide variety of methods can be used including: visual assessment, quantification of serum enzymes and experimental serum biomarkers and scoring histopathology. With further development, the zebrafish may be a model that complements rodents and may have value for the discovery of new disease pathways and translational biomarkers.
PMCID: PMC4219854  PMID: 24773296
Zebrafish; drug-induced liver injury; DILI; paracetamol; acetaminophen; hepatotoxicity; liver toxicity
25.  Similar anxiolytic effects of agonists targeting serotonin 5-HT1A or cannabinoid CB receptors on zebrafish behavior in novel environments 
The discovery that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine are present and bioaccumulate in aquatic ecosystems have spurred studies of fish serotonin transporters (SERTs) and changes in SSRI-sensitive behaviors as adverse outcomes relevant for risk assessment. Many SSRIs also act at serotonin 5-HT1A receptors. Since capitolizing on this action may improve treatments of clinical depression and other psychiatric disorders, novel multimodal drugs that agonize 5-HT1A and block SERT were introduced. In mammals both 5-HT1A and CB agonists, such as buspirone and WIN55,212-2, reduce anxious behaviors. Immunological and behavioral evidence suggests that 5-HT1A-like receptors may function similarly in zebrafish (Danio rerio), yet their pharmacological properties are not well characterized. Herein we compared the density of [3H] 8-hydroxy-2-di-n-propylamino tetralin (8-OH-DPAT) binding to 5-HT1A-like sites in the zebrafish brain, to that of simalarly Gαi/o-coupled cannabinoid receptors. [3H] 8-OH-DPAT specific binding was 176 ± 8, 275 ± 32, and 230 ± 36 fmol/mg protein in the hypothalamus, optic tectum, and telencephalon. [3H] WIN55,212-2 binding density was higher in those same brain regions at 6 ± 0.3, 5.5 ± 0.4 and 7.3 ± 0.3 pm/mg protein. The aquatic light-dark plus maze was used to examine behavioral effects of 5-HT1A and CB receptor agonists on zebrafish novelty-based anxiety. With acute exposure to the 5-HT1A partial-agonist buspirone (50 mg/L), or dietary exposure to WIN55,212-2 (7 μg/week) zebrafish spent more time in and/or entered white arms more often than controls (p < 0.05). Acute exposure to WIN55,212-2 at 0.5-50 mg/L, reduced mobility. These behavioral findings suggest that azipirones, like cannabinoid agonists, have anxiolytic and/or sedative properties on fish in novel environments. These observations highlight the need to consider potential ecological risks of azapirones and multimodal antidepressants in the future.
PMCID: PMC3989442  PMID: 24411165
aquatic exposure; anxiety; autoradiography; cannabinoid; Gαi/o coupled receptors; inhibition; light/dark preference; scototaxis; serotonin

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