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1.  Zebrafish: a novel research tool for cardiac (patho)electrophysiology and ion channel disorders 
The zebrafish is a cold-blooded tropical freshwater teleost with two-chamber heart morphology. A major advantage of the zebrafish for heart studies is that the embryo is transparent, allowing for easy assessment of heart development, heart rate analysis and phenotypic characterization. Moreover, rapid and effective gene-specific knockdown can be achieved using morpholino oligonucleotides. Lastly, zebrafish are small in size, are easy to maintain and house, grow fast, and have large offspring size, making them a cost-efficient research model. Zebrafish embryonic and adult heart rates as well as action potential (AP) shape and duration and electrocardiogram morphology closely resemble those of humans. However, whether the zebrafish is truly an attractive alternative model for human cardiac electrophysiology depends on the presence and gating properties of the various ion channels in the zebrafish heart, but studies into the latter are as yet limited. The rapid component of the delayed rectifier K+ current (IKr) remains the best characterized and validated ion current in zebrafish myocytes, and zebrafish may represent a valuable model to investigate human IKr channel-related disease, including long QT syndrome. Arguments against the use of zebrafish as model for human cardiac (patho)electrophysiology include its cold-bloodedness and two-chamber heart morphology, absence of t-tubuli, sarcoplamatic reticulum function, and a different profile of various depolarizing and repolarizing ion channels, including a limited Na+ current density. Based on the currently available literature, we propose that zebrafish may constitute a relevant research model for investigating ion channel disorders associated with abnormal repolarization, but may be less suitable for studying depolarization disorders or Ca2+-modulated arrhythmias.
PMCID: PMC3429032  PMID: 22934012
action potential; arrhythmia; cardiac electrophysiology; ion channel; ion channelopathy; patch-clamp; zebrafish
2.  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
3.  In vivo natriuretic peptide reporter assay identifies chemical modifiers of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy signalling 
Cardiovascular Research  2011;93(3):463-470.
Despite increased understanding of the fundamental biology regulating cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and heart failure, it has been challenging to find novel chemical or genetic modifiers of these pathways. Traditional cell-based methods do not model the complexity of an intact cardiovascular system and mammalian models are not readily adaptable to chemical or genetic screens. Our objective was to create an in vivo model suitable for chemical and genetic screens for hypertrophy and heart failure modifiers
Methods and results
Using the developing zebrafish, we established that the cardiac natriuretic peptide genes (nppa and nppb), known markers of cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and heart failure, were induced in the embryonic heart by pathological cardiac stimuli. This pathological induction was distinct from the developmental regulation of these genes. We created a luciferase-based transgenic reporter line that accurately modelled the pathological induction patterns of the zebrafish nppb gene. Utilizing this reporter line, we were able to show remarkable conservation of pharmacological responses between the larval zebrafish heart and adult mammalian models.
By performing a focused screen of chemical agents, we were able to show a distinct response of a genetic model of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy to the histone deacetylase inhibitor, Trichostatin A, and the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1/2 inhibitor, U0126. We believe this in vivo reporter line will offer a unique approach to the identification of novel chemical or genetic regulators of myocardial hypertrophy and heart failure.
PMCID: PMC3410427  PMID: 22198505
Natriuretic peptides; Hypertrophy; Heart development; Heart failure; Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
4.  The zebrafish as a tool to identify novel therapies for human cardiovascular disease 
Disease Models & Mechanisms  2014;7(7):763-767.
Over the past decade, the zebrafish has become an increasingly popular animal model for the study of human cardiovascular disease. Because zebrafish embryos are transparent and their genetic manipulation is straightforward, the zebrafish has been used to recapitulate a number of cardiovascular disease processes ranging from congenital heart defects to arrhythmia to cardiomyopathy. The use of fluorescent reporters has been essential to identify two discrete phases of cardiomyocyte differentiation necessary for normal cardiac development in the zebrafish. These phases are analogous to the differentiation of the two progenitor heart cell populations in mammals, termed the first and second heart fields. The small size of zebrafish embryos has enabled high-throughput chemical screening to identify small-molecule suppressors of fundamental pathways in vasculogenesis, such as the BMP axis, as well as of common vascular defects, such as aortic coarctation. The optical clarity of zebrafish has facilitated studies of valvulogenesis as well as detailed electrophysiological mapping to characterize the early cardiac conduction system. One unique aspect of zebrafish larvae is their ability to oxygenate through diffusion alone, permitting the study of mutations that cause severe cardiomyopathy phenotypes such as silent heart and pickwickm171, which mimic titin mutations observed in human dilated cardiomyopathy. Above all, the regenerative capacity of zebrafish presents a particularly exciting opportunity to discover new therapies for cardiac injury, including scar formation following myocardial infarction. This Review will summarize the current state of the field and describe future directions to advance our understanding of human cardiovascular disease.
PMCID: PMC4073266  PMID: 24973746
Cardiovascular; Drug discovery; Zebrafish
5.  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
6.  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
7.  A high throughput live transparent animal bioassay to identify non-toxic small molecules or genes that regulate vertebrate fat metabolism for obesity drug development 
The alarming rise in the obesity epidemic and growing concern for the pathologic consequences of the metabolic syndrome warrant great need for development of obesity-related pharmacotherapeutics. The search for such therapeutics is severely limited by the slow throughput of animal models of obesity. Amenable to placement into a 96 well plate, zebrafish larvae have emerged as one of the highest throughput vertebrate model organisms for performing small molecule screens. A method for visually identifying non-toxic molecular effectors of fat metabolism using a live transparent vertebrate was developed. Given that increased levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) via deletion of CD38 have been shown to prevent high fat diet induced obesity in mice in a SIRT-1 dependent fashion we explored the possibility of directly applying NAD to zebrafish.
Zebrafish larvae were incubated with daily refreshing of nile red containing media starting from a developmental stage of equivalent fat content among siblings (3 days post-fertilization, dpf) and continuing with daily refreshing until 7 dpf.
PPAR activators, beta-adrenergic agonists, SIRT-1 activators, and nicotinic acid treatment all caused predicted changes in fat, cholesterol, and gene expression consistent with a high degree of evolutionary conservation of fat metabolism signal transduction extending from man to zebrafish larvae. All changes in fat content were visually quantifiable in a relative fashion using live zebrafish larvae nile red fluorescence microscopy. Resveratrol treatment caused the greatest and most consistent loss of fat content. The resveratrol tetramer Vaticanol B caused loss of fat equivalent in potency to resveratrol alone. Significantly, the direct administration of NAD decreased fat content in zebrafish. Results from knockdown of a zebrafish G-PCR ortholog previously determined to decrease fat content in C. elegans support that future GPR142 antagonists may be effective non-toxic anti-obesity therapeutics.
Owing to the apparently high level of evolutionary conservation of signal transduction pathways regulating lipid metabolism, the zebrafish can be useful for identifying non-toxic small molecules or pharmacological target gene products for developing molecular therapeutics for treating clinical obesity. Our results support the promising potential in applying NAD or resveratrol where the underlying target protein likely involves Sirtuin family member proteins. Furthermore data supports future studies focused on determining whether there is a high concentration window for resveratrol that is effective and non-toxic in high fat obesity murine models.
PMCID: PMC2531115  PMID: 18752667
8.  Zebrafish on a Chip: A Novel Platform for Real-Time Monitoring of Drug-Induced Developmental Toxicity 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(4):e94792.
Pharmaceutical safety testing requires a cheap, fast and highly efficient platform for real-time evaluation of drug toxicity and secondary effects. In this study, we have developed a microfluidic system for phenotype-based evaluation of toxic and teratogenic effects of drugs using zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos and larvae as the model organism. The microfluidic chip is composed of two independent functional units, enabling the assessment of zebrafish embryos and larvae. Each unit consists of a fluidic concentration gradient generator and a row of seven culture chambers to accommodate zebrafish. To test the accuracy of this new chip platform, we examined the toxicity and teratogenicity of an anti-asthmatic agent-aminophylline (Apl) on 210 embryos and 210 larvae (10 individuals per chamber). The effect of Apl on zebrafish embryonic development was quantitatively assessed by recording a series of physiological indicators such as heart rate, survival rate, body length and hatch rate. Most importantly, a new index called clonic convulsion rate, combined with mortality was used to evaluate the toxicities of Apl on zebrafish larvae. We found that Apl can induce deformity and cardiovascular toxicity in both zebrafish embryos and larvae. This microdevice is a multiplexed testing apparatus that allows for the examination of indexes beyond toxicity and teratogenicity at the sub-organ and cellular levels and provides a potentially cost-effective and rapid pharmaceutical safety assessment tool.
PMCID: PMC3986246  PMID: 24733308
9.  Optical assessment of the cardiac rhythm of contracting cardiomyocytes in vitro and a pulsating heart in vivo for pharmacological screening 
Biomedical Optics Express  2014;5(5):1616-1625.
Our quest in the pathogenesis and therapies targeting human heart diseases requires assessment of the contractile dynamics of cardiac models of varied complexity, such as isolated cardiomyocytes and the heart of a model animal. It is hence beneficial to have an integral means that can interrogate both cardiomyocytes in vitro and a heart in vivo. Herein we report an application of dual-beam optical reflectometry to determine noninvasively the rhythm of two representative cardiac models–chick embryonic cardiomyocytes and the heart of zebrafish. We probed self-beating cardiomyocytes and revealed the temporally varying contractile frequency with a short-time Fourier transform. Our unique dual-beam setup uniquely records the atrial and ventricular pulsations of zebrafish simultaneously. To minimize the cross talk between signals associated with atrial and ventricular chambers, we particularly modulated the two probe beams at distinct frequencies and extracted the signals specific to individual cardiac chambers with phase-sensitive detection. With this setup, we determined the atrio-ventricular interval, a parameter that is manifested by the electrical conduction from the atrium to the ventricle. To demonstrate pharmacological applications, we characterized zebrafish treated with various cardioactive and cardiotoxic drugs, and identified abnormal cardiac rhythms and atrioventricular (AV) blocks of varied degree. In light of its potential capability to assess cardiac models both in vitro and in vivo and to screen drugs with cardioactivity or toxicity, we expect this approach to have broad applications ranging from cardiopharmacology to developmental biology.
PMCID: PMC4026895  PMID: 24877019
(170.0170) Medical optics and biotechnology; (170.2655) Functional monitoring and imaging
10.  Genetic and Physiologic Dissection of the Vertebrate Cardiac Conduction System 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(5):e109.
Vertebrate hearts depend on highly specialized cardiomyocytes that form the cardiac conduction system (CCS) to coordinate chamber contraction and drive blood efficiently and unidirectionally throughout the organism. Defects in this specialized wiring system can lead to syncope and sudden cardiac death. Thus, a greater understanding of cardiac conduction development may help to prevent these devastating clinical outcomes. Utilizing a cardiac-specific fluorescent calcium indicator zebrafish transgenic line, Tg(cmlc2:gCaMP)s878, that allows for in vivo optical mapping analysis in intact animals, we identified and analyzed four distinct stages of cardiac conduction development that correspond to cellular and anatomical changes of the developing heart. Additionally, we observed that epigenetic factors, such as hemodynamic flow and contraction, regulate the fast conduction network of this specialized electrical system. To identify novel regulators of the CCS, we designed and performed a new, physiology-based, forward genetic screen and identified for the first time, to our knowledge, 17 conduction-specific mutations. Positional cloning of hobgoblins634 revealed that tcf2, a homeobox transcription factor gene involved in mature onset diabetes of the young and familial glomerulocystic kidney disease, also regulates conduction between the atrium and the ventricle. The combination of the Tg(cmlc2:gCaMP)s878 line/in vivo optical mapping technique and characterization of cardiac conduction mutants provides a novel multidisciplinary approach to further understand the molecular determinants of the vertebrate CCS.
Author Summary
Aberrant electrical activity of the heart, otherwise known as cardiac arrhythmia, may disrupt heart contractions, leading to loss of consciousness and sudden death. Every year, approximately 450,000 individuals in the United States die suddenly from this event. Currently, the only proven preventive therapy for sudden cardiac death is the automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which carries a significant burden and cost to the patient. Greater understanding of the cardiac conduction system, which coordinates rhythmic beating of the heart, may lead to novel and safer therapeutic options for these patients. Working with zebrafish, a productive model system for understanding human disease, we have developed a cardiac-specific fluorescent calcium indicator zebrafish transgenic line to analyze the formation of the cardiac conduction system. Using this fluorescent transgenic line, we have observed four distinct physiologic cardiac conduction stages that correspond to cellular and anatomic changes of the developing heart. Furthermore, we have designed and performed a new, physiology-based, forward genetic screen to identify cardiac conduction mutants that would have escaped discovery in previous screens. Overall, these studies may prove rewarding toward developing therapeutic options aimed at maintaining and/or improving overall cardiac health.
By characterizing the genetic underpinnings of the vertebrate cardiac conduction system, a new study sheds light on the mechanisms underlying cardiac arrhythmias, which cause the sudden death of hundreds of thousands of people each year.
PMCID: PMC2430899  PMID: 18479184
11.  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
12.  Evaluation of 14 Organic Solvents and Carriers for Screening Applications in Zebrafish Embryos and Larvae 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e43850.
Zebrafish are rapidly growing in popularity as an in vivo model system for chemical genetics, drug discovery, and toxicology, and more recently also for natural product discovery. Experiments involving the pharmacological evaluation of small molecules or natural product extracts in zebrafish bioassays require the effective delivery of these compounds to embryos and larvae. While most samples to be screened are first solubilized in dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which is then diluted in the embryo medium, often this method is not sufficient to prevent the immediate or eventual precipitation of the sample. Certain compounds and extracts are also not highly soluble in DMSO. In such instances the use of carriers and/or other solvents might offer an alternative means to achieve the required sample concentration. Towards this end, we determined the maximum tolerated concentration (MTC) of several commonly used solvents and carriers in zebrafish embryos and larvae at various developmental stages. Solvents evaluated for this study included acetone, acetonitrile, butanone, dimethyl formamide, DMSO, ethanol, glycerol, isopropanol, methanol, polyethylene glycol (PEG-400), propylene glycol, and solketal, and carriers included albumin (BSA) and cyclodextrin (2-hydroxypropyl-beta-cyclodextrin, or HPBCD). This study resulted in the identification of polyethylene glycol (PEG400), propylene glycol, and methanol as solvents that were relatively well-tolerated over a range of developmental stages. In addition, our results showed that acetone was well-tolerated by embryos but not by larvae, and 1% cyclodextrin (HPBCD) was well-tolerated by both embryos and larvae, indicating the utility of this carrier for compound screening in zebrafish. However, given the relatively small differences (2–3 fold) between concentrations that are apparently safe and those that are clearly toxic, further studies – e.g. omics analyses –should be carried out to determine which cellular processes and signalling pathways are affected by any solvents and carriers that are used for small-molecule screens in zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC3474771  PMID: 23082109
13.  In vivo cardiac imaging of adult zebrafish using high frequency ultrasound (45–75 MHz) 
The zebrafish has emerged as an excellent genetic model organism for studies of cardiovascular development. Optical transparency and external development during embryogenesis allow for visual analysis in the early development. However, to understand the cardiovascular structures and functions beyond the early stage requires a high-resolution, real-time, non-invasive imaging alternative due to the opacity of adult zebrafish. In this research, we report the development of a high frequency ultrasonic system for adult zebrafish cardiac imaging, capable of 75 MHz B-mode imaging at a spatial resolution of 25 μm and 45 MHz pulsed-wave Doppler measurement. The system allows for real-time delineation of detailed cardiac structures, estimation of cardiac dimensions, as well as image-guided Doppler blood flow measurements. In vivo imaging studies showed the identification of the atrium, ventricle, bulbus arteriosus, atrioventricular valve, and bulboventricular valve in real-time images, with cardiac measurement at various stages. Doppler waveforms acquired at the ventricle and the bulbus arteriosus demonstrated the utility of this system to study the zebrafish cardiovascular hemodynamics. This high frequency ultrasonic system offers a multitude of opportunities for cardiovascular researchers. In addition, the detection of E-flow and A-flow during the ventricular filling, and the appearance of diastolic flow reversal at bulbus arteriosus suggested the functional similarity of zebrafish heart to that of higher vertebrates.
PMCID: PMC2292109  PMID: 17825980
high frequency ultrasound; ultrasound bio-microscopy; pulsed-wave Doppler; zebrafish; echocardiography
14.  Micromechanical function of myofibrils isolated from skeletal and cardiac muscles of the zebrafish 
The Journal of General Physiology  2011;137(3):255-270.
The zebrafish is a potentially important and cost-effective model for studies of development, motility, regeneration, and inherited human diseases. The object of our work was to show whether myofibrils isolated from zebrafish striated muscle represent a valid subcellular contractile model. These organelles, which determine contractile function in muscle, were used in a fast kinetic mechanical technique based on an atomic force probe and video microscopy. Mechanical variables measured included rate constants of force development (kACT) after Ca2+ activation and of force decay (τREL−1) during relaxation upon Ca2+ removal, isometric force at maximal (Fmax) or partial Ca2+ activations, and force response to an external stretch applied to the relaxed myofibril (Fpass). Myotomal myofibrils from larvae developed greater active and passive forces, and contracted and relaxed faster than skeletal myofibrils from adult zebrafish, indicating developmental changes in the contractile organelles of the myotomal muscles. Compared with murine cardiac myofibrils, measurements of adult zebrafish ventricular myofibrils show that kACT, Fmax, Ca2+ sensitivity of the force, and Fpass were comparable and τREL−1 was smaller. These results suggest that cardiac myofibrils from zebrafish, like those from mice, are suitable contractile models to study cardiac function at the sarcomeric level. The results prove the practicability and usefulness of mechanical and kinetic investigations on myofibrils isolated from larval and adult zebrafish muscles. This novel approach for investigating myotomal and myocardial function in zebrafish at the subcellular level, combined with the powerful genetic manipulations that are possible in the zebrafish, will allow the investigation of the functional primary consequences of human disease–related mutations in sarcomeric proteins in the zebrafish model.
PMCID: PMC3047611  PMID: 21357732
15.  Zebrafish Model Systems for Developmental Neurobehavioral Toxicology 
Zebrafish offer many advantages that complement classic mammalian models for the study of normal development as well as for the teratogenic effects of exposure to hazardous compounds. The clear chorion and embryo of the zebrafish allow for continuous visualization of the anatomical changes associated with development, which, along with short maturation times and the capability of complex behavior, makes this model particularly useful for measuring changes to the developing nervous system. Moreover, the rich array of developmental, behavioral, and molecular benefits offered by the zebrafish have contributed to an increasing demand for the use of zebrafish in behavioral teratology. Essential for this endeavor has been the development of a battery of tests to evaluate a spectrum of behavior in zebrafish. Measures of sensorimotor plasticity, emotional function, cognition and social interaction have been used to characterize the persisting adverse effects of developmental exposure to a variety of chemicals including therapeutic drugs, drugs of abuse and environmental toxicants. In this review, we present and discuss such tests and data from a range of developmental neurobehavioral toxicology studies using zebrafish as a model. Zebrafish provide a key intermediate model between high throughput in vitro screens and the classic mammalian models as they have the accessibility of in vitro models and the complex functional capabilities of mammalian models.
PMCID: PMC4000730  PMID: 23723169
Zebrafish; Development; Neurotoxicology; Behavior
16.  Novel Chemical Suppressors of Long QT Syndrome Identified by an in vivo Functional Screen 
Circulation  2010;123(1):23-30.
Genetic long QT (LQT) syndrome is a life-threatening disorder caused by mutations that result in prolongation of cardiac repolarization. Recent work has demonstrated that a zebrafish model of LQT syndrome faithfully recapitulates several features of human disease including prolongation of ventricular action potential duration (APD), spontaneous early after-depolarizations, and 2:1 atrioventricular (AV) block in early stages of development. Due to their transparency, small size, and absorption of small molecules from their environment, zebrafish are amenable to high throughput chemical screens. We describe a small molecule screen using the zebrafish KCNH2 mutant breakdance to identify compounds that can rescue the LQT type 2 phenotype.
Methods and Results
Zebrafish breakdance embryos were exposed to test compounds at 48 hours of development and scored for rescue of 2:1 AV block at 72 hours in a 96-well format. Only compounds that suppressed the LQT phenotype in three of three fish were considered hits. Screen compounds were obtained from commercially available small molecule libraries (Prestwick and Chembridge). Initial hits were confirmed with dose response testing and time course studies. Optical mapping using the voltage sensitive dye di-4 ANEPPS was performed to measure compound effects on cardiac APDs. Screening of 1200 small molecules resulted in the identification of flurandrenolide and 2-methoxy-N-(4-methylphenyl) benzamide (2-MMB) as compounds that reproducibly suppressed the LQT phenotype. Optical mapping confirmed that treatment with each compound caused shortening of ventricular APDs. Structure activity studies and steroid receptor knockdown suggest that flurandrenolide functions via the glucocorticoid signaling pathway.
Using a zebrafish model of LQT type 2 syndrome in a high throughput chemical screen, we have identified two compounds, flurandrenolide and the novel compound, 2-MMB, as small molecules that rescue the zebrafish LQTS 2 by shortening the ventricular action potential duration. We provide evidence that flurandrenolide functions via the glucocorticoid receptor mediated pathway. These two molecules, and future discoveries from this screen, should yield novel tools for the study of cardiac electrophysiology and may lead to novel therapeutics for human LQT patients.
PMCID: PMC3015011  PMID: 21098441
long QT syndrome; animal models of human disease; ion channels; chemical screening
17.  Laser-targeted ablation of the zebrafish embryonic ventricle: A novel model of cardiac injury and repair☆☆☆★ 
International Journal of Cardiology  2013;168(4):3913-3919.
While the adult zebrafish (Danio rerio) heart demonstrates a remarkable capacity for self-renewal following apical resection little is known about the response to injury in the embryonic heart.
Injury to the beating zebrafish embryo heart was induced by laser using a transgenic zebrafish expressing cardiomyocyte specific green fluorescent protein. Changes in ejection fraction (EF), heart rate (HR), and caudal vein blood flow (CVBF) assessed by video capture techniques were assessed at 2, 24 and 48 h post-laser. Change in total and mitotic ventricular cardiomyocyte number following laser injury was also assessed by counting respectively DAPI (VCt) and Phospho-histone H3 (VCm) positive nuclei in isolated hearts using confocal microscopy.
Laser injury to the ventricle resulted in bradycardia and mild bleeding into the pericardium. At 2 h post-laser injury, there was a significant reduction in cardiac performance in lasered-hearts compared with controls (HR 117 ± 11 vs 167 ± 9 bpm, p ≤ 0.001; EF 14.1 ± 1.8 vs 20.1 ± 1.3%, p ≤ 0.001; CVBF 103 ± 15 vs 316 ± 13μms− 1, p ≤ 0.001, respectively). Isolated hearts showed a significant reduction in VCt at 2 h post-laser compared to controls (195 ± 15 vs 238 ± 15, p ≤ 0.05). Histology showed necrosis and apoptosis (TUNEL assay) at the site of laser injury. At 24 h post-laser cardiac performance and VCt had recovered fully to control levels. Pretreatment with the cell-cycle inhibitor, aphidicolin, significantly inhibited functional recovery of the ventricle accompanied by a significant inhibition of cardiomyocyte proliferation.
Laser-targeted injury of the zebrafish embryonic heart is a novel and reproducible model of cardiac injury and repair suitable for pharmacological and molecular studies.
PMCID: PMC3819623  PMID: 23871347
Zebrafish; Heart; Laser; Injury; Repair
18.  A Phenotypic Screen in Zebrafish Identifies a Novel Small-Molecule Inducer of Ectopic Tail Formation Suggestive of Alterations in Non-Canonical Wnt/PCP Signaling 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(12):e83293.
Zebrafish have recently emerged as an attractive model for the in vivo bioassay-guided isolation and characterization of pharmacologically active small molecules of natural origin. We carried out a zebrafish-based phenotypic screen of over 3000 plant-derived secondary metabolite extracts with the goal of identifying novel small-molecule modulators of the BMP and Wnt signaling pathways. One of the bioactive plant extracts identified in this screen – Jasminum gilgianum, an Oleaceae species native to Papua New Guinea – induced ectopic tails during zebrafish embryonic development. As ectopic tail formation occurs when BMP or non-canonical Wnt signaling is inhibited during the tail protrusion process, we suspected a constituent of this extract to act as a modulator of these pathways. A bioassay-guided isolation was carried out on the basis of this zebrafish phenotype, identifying para-coumaric acid methyl ester (pCAME) as the active compound. We then performed an in-depth phenotypic analysis of pCAME-treated zebrafish embryos, including a tissue-specific marker analysis of the secondary tails. We found pCAME to synergize with the BMP-inhibitors dorsomorphin and LDN-193189 in inducing ectopic tails, and causing convergence-extension defects in compound-treated embryos. These results indicate that pCAME may interfere with non-canonical Wnt signaling. Inhibition of Jnk, a downstream target of Wnt/PCP signaling (via morpholino antisense knockdown and pharmacological inhibition with the kinase inhibitor SP600125) phenocopied pCAME-treated embryos. However, immunoblotting experiments revealed pCAME to not directly inhibit Jnk-mediated phosphorylation of c-Jun, suggesting additional targets of SP600125, and/or other pathways, as possibly being involved in the ectopic tail formation activity of pCAME. Further investigation of pCAME’s mechanism of action will help determine this compound’s pharmacological utility.
PMCID: PMC3859651  PMID: 24349481
19.  Use of the Zebrafish Larvae as a Model to Study Cigarette Smoke Condensate Toxicity 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e115305.
The smoking of tobacco continues to be the leading cause of premature death worldwide and is linked to the development of a number of serious illnesses including heart disease, respiratory diseases, stroke and cancer. Currently, cell line based toxicity assays are typically used to gain information on the general toxicity of cigarettes and other tobacco products. However, they provide little information regarding the complex disease-related changes that have been linked to smoking. The ethical concerns and high cost associated with mammalian studies have limited their widespread use for in vivo toxicological studies of tobacco. The zebrafish has emerged as a low-cost, high-throughput, in vivo model in the study of toxicology. In this study, smoke condensates from 2 reference cigarettes and 6 Canadian brands of cigarettes with different design features were assessed for acute, developmental, cardiac, and behavioural toxicity (neurotoxicity) in zebrafish larvae. By making use of this multifaceted approach we have developed an in vivo model with which to compare the toxicity profiles of smoke condensates from cigarettes with different design features. This model system may provide insights into the development of smoking related disease and could provide a cost-effective, high-throughput platform for the future evaluation of tobacco products.
PMCID: PMC4272283  PMID: 25526262
20.  Multiple modes of proepicardial cell migration require heartbeat 
The outermost layer of the vertebrate heart, the epicardium, forms from a cluster of progenitor cells termed the proepicardium (PE). PE cells migrate onto the myocardium to give rise to the epicardium. Impaired epicardial development has been associated with defects in valve development, cardiomyocyte proliferation and alignment, cardiac conduction system maturation and adult heart regeneration. Zebrafish are an excellent model for studying cardiac development and regeneration; however, little is known about how the zebrafish epicardium forms.
We report that PE migration occurs through multiple mechanisms and that the zebrafish epicardium is composed of a heterogeneous population of cells. Heterogeneity is first observed within the PE and persists through epicardium formation. Using in vivo imaging, histology and confocal microscopy, we show that PE cells migrate through a cellular bridge that forms between the pericardial mesothelium and the heart. We also observed the formation of PE aggregates on the pericardial surface, which were released into the pericardial cavity. It was previously reported that heartbeat-induced pericardiac fluid advections are necessary for PE cluster formation and subsequent epicardium development. We manipulated heartbeat genetically and pharmacologically and found that PE clusters clearly form in the absence of heartbeat. However, when heartbeat was inhibited the PE failed to migrate to the myocardium and the epicardium did not form. We isolated and cultured hearts with only a few epicardial progenitor cells and found a complete epicardial layer formed. However, pharmacologically inhibiting contraction in culture prevented epicardium formation. Furthermore, we isolated control and silent heart (sih) morpholino (MO) injected hearts prior to epicardium formation (60 hpf) and co-cultured these hearts with “donor” hearts that had an epicardium forming (108 hpf). Epicardial cells from donor hearts migrated on to control but not sih MO injected hearts.
Epicardial cells stem from a heterogeneous population of progenitors, suggesting that the progenitors in the PE have distinct identities. PE cells attach to the heart via a cellular bridge and free-floating cell clusters. Pericardiac fluid advections are not necessary for the development of the PE cluster, however heartbeat is required for epicardium formation. Epicardium formation can occur in culture without normal hydrodynamic and hemodynamic forces, but not without contraction.
PMCID: PMC4048602  PMID: 24885804
Epicardium; Epicardial; Proepicardium; Proepicardial; Heart; Zebrafish; tcf21
21.  “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
22.  Low-Volume Toolbox for the Discovery of Immunosuppressive Fungal Secondary Metabolites 
PLoS Pathogens  2013;9(4):e1003289.
The secondary metabolome provides pathogenic fungi with a plethoric and versatile panel of molecules that can be deployed during host ingress. While powerful genetic and analytical chemistry methods have been developed to identify fungal secondary metabolites (SMs), discovering the biological activity of SMs remains an elusive yet critical task. Here, we describe a process for identifying the immunosuppressive properties of Aspergillus SMs developed by coupling a cost-effective microfluidic neutrophil chemotaxis assay with an in vivo zebrafish assay. The microfluidic platform allows the identification of metabolites inhibiting neutrophil recruitment with as little as several nano-grams of compound in microliters of fluid. The zebrafish assay demonstrates a simple and accessible approach for performing in vivo studies without requiring any manipulation of the fish. Using this methodology we identify the immunosuppressive properties of a fungal SM, endocrocin. We find that endocrocin is localized in Aspergillus fumigatus spores and its biosynthesis is temperature-dependent. Finally, using the Drosophila toll deficient model, we find that deletion of encA, encoding the polyketide synthase required for endocrocin production, yields a less pathogenic strain of A. fumigatus when spores are harvested from endocrocin permissive but not when harvested from endocrocin restrictive conditions. The tools developed here will open new “function-omic” avenues downstream of the metabolomics, identification, and purification phases.
Author Summary
Several fungal pathogens produce bioactive small molecules, commonly known as secondary metabolites (SMs) that contribute towards disease development in susceptible hosts. Genome assessment of human pathogenic Aspergillus species indicates these fungi have the capabilities of producing hundreds of SMs, most of which are currently not characterized for their effect on human health and the immune system. This lack of knowledge is directly correlated to the difficulties of obtaining assayable quantities of pure metabolites. To overcome this roadblock in assessing the potential impact of SMs on the immune system, our laboratories have developed a two-tiered cost-effective, high-throughput program utilizing microfluidic platforms and a novel zebrafish model to identify SMs inhibiting neutrophil chemotaxis. Using minimal and physiologically relevant amounts of SMs, this systematic approach has identified the A. fumigatus spore SM, endocrocin, as a potent chemotaxis inhibitor. Interestingly, the production of endocrocin is temperature dependent and virulence studies with the endocrocin null mutant implicates the temperature at which the fungus forms spores as a factor in disease development.
PMCID: PMC3623715  PMID: 23592999
23.  Large-Scale Assessment of the Zebrafish Embryo as a Possible Predictive Model in Toxicity Testing 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(6):e21076.
In the drug discovery pipeline, safety pharmacology is a major issue. The zebrafish has been proposed as a model that can bridge the gap in this field between cell assays (which are cost-effective, but low in data content) and rodent assays (which are high in data content, but less cost-efficient). However, zebrafish assays are only likely to be useful if they can be shown to have high predictive power. We examined this issue by assaying 60 water-soluble compounds representing a range of chemical classes and toxicological mechanisms.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Over 20,000 wild-type zebrafish embryos (including controls) were cultured individually in defined buffer in 96-well plates. Embryos were exposed for a 96 hour period starting at 24 hours post fertilization. A logarithmic concentration series was used for range-finding, followed by a narrower geometric series for LC50 determination. Zebrafish embryo LC50 (log mmol/L), and published data on rodent LD50 (log mmol/kg), were found to be strongly correlated (using Kendall's rank correlation tau and Pearson's product-moment correlation). The slope of the regression line for the full set of compounds was 0.73403. However, we found that the slope was strongly influenced by compound class. Thus, while most compounds had a similar toxicity level in both species, some compounds were markedly more toxic in zebrafish than in rodents, or vice versa.
For the substances examined here, in aggregate, the zebrafish embryo model has good predictivity for toxicity in rodents. However, the correlation between zebrafish and rodent toxicity varies considerably between individual compounds and compound class. We discuss the strengths and limitations of the zebrafish model in light of these findings.
PMCID: PMC3125172  PMID: 21738604
24.  Quantifying Cardiac Functions in Embryonic and Adult Zebrafish 
Zebrafish embryos have been extensively used to study heart development and cardiac function, mainly due to the unique embryology and genetics of this model organism. Since most human heart disease occurs during adulthood, adult zebrafish models of heart disease are being created to dissect mechanisms of the disease and discover novel therapies. However, due to its small heart size, the use of cardiac functional assays in the adult zebrafish has been limited. To address this bottleneck, the transparent fish line casper;Tg(cmlc2:nuDsRed) that has a red fluorescent heart can be used to document beating hearts in vivo and to quantify cardiac functions in adult zebrafish. Here, we describe our methods for quantifying shortening fraction and heart rate in embryonic zebrafish, as well as in the juvenile and adult casper;Tg(cmlc2:nuDsRed) fish. In addition, we describe the red blood cell flow rate assay that can be used to reflect cardiac function indirectly in zebrafish at any stage.
PMCID: PMC3762588  PMID: 22222517
Zebrafish; Physiology; Shortening fraction; Heart rate; Flow rate
25.  Centrosomes in the zebrafish (Danio rerio): a review including the related basal body 
Cilia  2012;1:9.
Ever since Edouard Van Beneden and Theodor Boveri first formally described the centrosome in the late 1800s, it has captivated cell biologists. The name clearly indicated its central importance to cell functioning, even to these early investigators. We now know of its role as a major microtubule-organizing center (MTOC) and of its dynamic roles in cell division, vesicle trafficking and for its relative, the basal body, ciliogenesis. While centrosomes are found in most animal cells, notably it is absent in most oocytes and higher plant cells. Nevertheless, it appears that critical components of the centrosome act as MTOCs in these cells as well. The zebrafish has emerged as an exciting and promising new model organism, primarily due to the pioneering efforts of George Streisinger to use zebrafish in genetic studies and due to Christiane Nusslein-Volhard, Wolfgang Driever and their teams of collaborators, who applied forward genetics to elicit a large number of mutant lines. The transparency and rapid external development of the embryo allow for experiments not easily done in other vertebrates. The ease of producing transgenic lines, often with the use of fluorescent reporters, and gene knockdowns with antisense morpholinos further contributes to the appeal of the model as an experimental system. The added advantage of high-throughput screening of small-molecule libraries, as well as the ease of mass rearing together with low cost, makes the zebrafish a true frontrunner as a model vertebrate organism. The zebrafish has a body plan shared by all vertebrates, including humans. This conservation of body plan provides added significance to the existing lines of zebrafish as human disease models and adds an impetus to the ongoing efforts to develop new models. In this review, the current state of knowledge about the centrosome in the zebrafish model is explored. Also, studies on the related basal body in zebrafish and their relationship to ciliogenesis are reviewed.
PMCID: PMC3555702  PMID: 23351173
γ-tubulin; spindle; cilium; centriole; centrin; microtubule; MTOC

Results 1-25 (1185159)