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1.  Photocaged Morpholino Oligomers for the Light-Regulation of Gene Function in Zebrafish and Xenopus Embryos 
Journal of the American Chemical Society  2010;132(44):15644-15650.
Morpholino oligonucleotides, or morpholinos, have emerged as powerful antisense reagents for evaluating gene function in both in vitro and in vivo contexts. However, the constitutive activity of these reagents limits their utility for applications that require spatiotemporal control, such as tissue specific gene disruptions in embryos. In addition, current indirect methods for spatiotemporal regulation of morpholino activity in vivo may have off-target effects. Here we report a novel and efficient synthetic route for directly incorporating photocaged monomeric building blocks into morpholino oligomers, and demonstrate the utility of these caged morpholinos in the light-activated control of gene function in both cell culture and living embryos. We demonstrate that a caged morpholino targeting enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) disrupts EGFP production only after exposure to UV light in both transfected cells and living zebrafish (Danio rerio) and Xenopus frog embryos. Finally, we show that a caged morpholino targeting chordin, a zebrafish gene that yields a distinct phenotype when functionally disrupted by conventional morpholinos, elicits a chordin phenotype in a UV-dependent manner. Our results suggest that directly photocaged morpholinos are readily synthesized and highly efficacious tools for light-activated spatio-temporal control of gene expression in multiple contexts.
PMCID: PMC3001396  PMID: 20961123
antisense agents; gene expression; light-activation; morpholino; photocaging
2.  p53 Activation by Knockdown Technologies 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(5):e78.
Morpholino phosphorodiamidate antisense oligonucleotides (MOs) and short interfering RNAs (siRNAs) are commonly used platforms to study gene function by sequence-specific knockdown. Both technologies, however, can elicit undesirable off-target effects. We have used several model genes to study these effects in detail in the zebrafish, Danio rerio. Using the zebrafish embryo as a template, correct and mistargeting effects are readily discernible through direct comparison of MO-injected animals with well-studied mutants. We show here indistinguishable off-targeting effects for both maternal and zygotic mRNAs and for both translational and splice-site targeting MOs. The major off-targeting effect is mediated through p53 activation, as detected through the transferase-mediated dUTP nick end labeling assay, acridine orange, and p21 transcriptional activation assays. Concurrent knockdown of p53 specifically ameliorates the cell death induced by MO off-targeting. Importantly, reversal of p53-dependent cell death by p53 knockdown does not affect specific loss of gene function, such as the cell death caused by loss of function of chordin. Interestingly, quantitative reverse-transcriptase PCR, microarrays and whole-mount in situ hybridization assays show that MO off-targeting effects are accompanied by diagnostic transcription of an N-terminal truncated p53 isoform that uses a recently recognized internal p53 promoter. We show here that MO off-targeting results in induction of a p53-dependent cell death pathway. p53 activation has also recently been shown to be an unspecified off-target effect of siRNAs. Both commonly used knockdown technologies can thus induce secondary but sequence-specific p53 activation. p53 inhibition could potentially be applicable to other systems to suppress off-target effects caused by other knockdown technologies.
Author Summary
Recent advances in sequence-based approaches to “knockdown” gene function have opened the door to an array of approaches to uncover functions for genes of interest. Vertebrate knockdown strategies—such as morpholinos (MOs) in zebrafish or RNA interference-based strategies in mammalian systems—have been demonstrated to be effective, rapid, and cost-efficient reverse-genetic approaches for studying gene function. However, their deployment has to date been limited by a number of technical (genomic, biological, and off-targeting) hurdles. One of the notable and unexpected findings from our work using MOs has been a series of observations surrounding unanticipated effects that are independent of the intended gene target. We have identified and characterized a recently described p53 induction pathway due to off-targeting that appears to be shared between knockdown technologies. This study reconciles a series of unexpected findings that show p53 upregulation at the transcriptional level in a subset of short inhibitory RNA- and MO-treated vertebrate systems. Moreover, concurrent p53 knockdown provides a new approach to facilitate the identification of previously hidden gene functions. This study provides both a new gene knockdown enhancement tool as well as additional insight into an important and conserved pathway implicated in cellular toxicity.
PMCID: PMC1877875  PMID: 17530925
3.  A Primer for Morpholino Use in Zebrafish 
Zebrafish  2009;6(1):69-77.
Morpholino oligonucleotides are the most common anti-sense “knockdown” technique used in zebrafish (Danio rerio). This review discusses common practices for the design, preparation, and deployment of morpholinos in this vertebrate model system. Off-targeting effects of morpholinos are discussed as well as method to minimize this potentially confounding variable via co-injection of a tP53-targeting morpholino. Finally, new uses of morpholinos are summarized and contextualized with respect to the complementary, DNA-based knockout technologies recently developed for zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC2776066  PMID: 19374550
4.  A Primer for Morpholino Use in Zebrafish 
Zebrafish  2009;6(1):69-77.
Morpholino oligonucleotides are the most common anti-sense “knockdown” technique used in zebrafish (Danio rerio). This review discusses common practices for the design, preparation, and deployment of morpholinos in this vertebrate model system. Off-targeting effects of morpholinos are discussed as well as method to minimize this potentially confounding variable via co-injection of a tP53-targeting morpholino. Finally, new uses of morpholinos are summarized and contextualized with respect to the complementary, DNA-based knockout technologies recently developed for zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC2776066  PMID: 19374550
5.  Targeted Inhibition of miRNA Maturation with Morpholinos Reveals a Role for miR-375 in Pancreatic Islet Development 
PLoS Biology  2007;5(8):e203.
Several vertebrate microRNAs (miRNAs) have been implicated in cellular processes such as muscle differentiation, synapse function, and insulin secretion. In addition, analysis of Dicer null mutants has shown that miRNAs play a role in tissue morphogenesis. Nonetheless, only a few loss-of-function phenotypes for individual miRNAs have been described to date. Here, we introduce a quick and versatile method to interfere with miRNA function during zebrafish embryonic development. Morpholino oligonucleotides targeting the mature miRNA or the miRNA precursor specifically and temporally knock down miRNAs. Morpholinos can block processing of the primary miRNA (pri-miRNA) or the pre-miRNA, and they can inhibit the activity of the mature miRNA. We used this strategy to knock down 13 miRNAs conserved between zebrafish and mammals. For most miRNAs, this does not result in visible defects, but knockdown of miR-375 causes defects in the morphology of the pancreatic islet. Although the islet is still intact at 24 hours postfertilization, in later stages the islet cells become scattered. This phenotype can be recapitulated by independent control morpholinos targeting other sequences in the miR-375 precursor, excluding off-target effects as cause of the phenotype. The aberrant formation of the endocrine pancreas, caused by miR-375 knockdown, is one of the first loss-of-function phenotypes for an individual miRNA in vertebrate development. The miRNA knockdown strategy presented here will be widely used to unravel miRNA function in zebrafish.
Author Summary
The striking tissue-specific expression patterns of microRNAs (miRNAs) suggest that they play a role in tissue development. These small RNA molecules (∼22 bases in length) are processed from long primary transcripts (pri-miRNA) and regulate gene expression at the posttranscriptional level. There are hundreds of different miRNAs, many of which are strongly conserved. Vertebrate embryonic development is most easily studied in zebrafish, but genetically disrupting miRNA genes to see which miRNA does what is technically challenging. In this study, we interfere with miRNA function during the first few days of zebrafish embryonic development by introducing specific antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (morpholinos have been used previously to interfere with the synthesis of the much larger mRNAs). We show that morpholinos targeting the miRNA precursor can block processing of the pri-miRNA or directly inhibit the activity of the mature miRNA. We also used morpholinos to study the developmental effects of miRNA knockdown. Although we did not observe gross phenotypic defects for many miRNAs, we found that zebrafish miR-375 is essential for formation of the insulin-secreting pancreatic islet. Loss of miR-375 results in dispersed islet cells by 36 hours postfertilization, representing one of the first vertebrate miRNA loss-of-function phenotypes.
The authors show that morpholinos can be used to knock down zebrafish miRNAs, revealing that miR-375 is important for vertebrate pancreas development.
PMCID: PMC1925136  PMID: 17676975
6.  Microinjection of mRNA and Morpholino Antisense Oligonucleotides in Zebrafish Embryos. 
An essential tool for investigating the role of a gene during development is the ability to perform gene knockdown, overexpression, and misexpression studies. In zebrafish (Danio rerio), microinjection of RNA, DNA, proteins, antisense oligonucleotides and other small molecules into the developing embryo provides researchers a quick and robust assay for exploring gene function in vivo. In this video-article, we will demonstrate how to prepare and microinject in vitro synthesized EGFP mRNA and a translational-blocking morpholino oligo against pkd2, a gene associated with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD), into 1-cell stage zebrafish embryos. We will then analyze the success of the mRNA and morpholino microinjections by verifying GFP expression and phenotype analysis. Broad applications of this technique include generating transgenic animals and germ-line chimeras, cell-fate mapping and gene screening. Herein we describe a protocol for overexpression of EGFP and knockdown of pkd2 by mRNA and morpholino oligonucleotide injection.
PMCID: PMC2762915  PMID: 19488022
7.  Morpholino artifacts provide pitfalls and reveal a novel role for pro-apoptotic genes in hindbrain boundary development 
Developmental Biology  2011;350(2):279-289.
Morpholino antisense oligonucleotides (MOs) are widely used as a tool to achieve loss of gene function, but many have off-target effects mediated by activation of Tp53 and associated apoptosis. Here, we re-examine our previous MO-based loss-of-function studies that had suggested that Wnt1 expressed at hindbrain boundaries in zebrafish promotes neurogenesis and inhibits boundary marker gene expression in the adjacent para-boundary regions. We find that Tp53 is highly activated and apoptosis is frequently induced by the MOs used in these studies. Co-knockdown of Tp53 rescues the decrease in proneural and neuronal marker expression, which is thus an off-target effect of MOs. While loss of gene expression can be attributed to cell loss through apoptotic cell death, surprisingly we find that the ectopic expression of hindbrain boundary markers is also dependent on Tp53 activity and its downstream apoptotic effectors. We examine whether this non-specific activation of hindbrain boundary gene expression provides insight into the endogenous mechanisms underlying boundary cell specification. We find that the pro-apoptotic Bcl genes puma and bax-a are required for hindbrain boundary marker expression, and that gain of function of the Bcl-caspase pathway leads to ectopic boundary marker expression. These data reveal a non-apoptotic role for pro-apoptotic genes in the regulation of gene expression at hindbrain boundaries. In light of these findings, we discuss the precautions needed in performing morpholino knockdowns and in interpreting the data derived from their use.
Research Highlights
► Previous studies have shown that antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (MOs) can have off-target effects mediated by activation of Tp53 and associated apoptosis. ► We show that in the zebrafish hindbrain, MOs can also non-specifically induce ectopic boundary marker gene expression. ► The induction of ectopic gene expression by MOs is due to a normal non-apoptotic role of the Bcl–caspase pathway that is required for hindbrain boundary gene expression. ► These findings reveal that a previous study suggesting that Wnt1 promotes neurogenesis and restricts hindbrain boundary marker expression is incorrect. ► The finding that MOs can induce non-apoptotic roles of the pro-apoptotic pathway further emphasizes the need for precautions in their use and interpretation of results.
PMCID: PMC3111810  PMID: 21145318
Morpholino; Rhombomere; Toxicity; Neurogenesis; Boundary; Zebrafish
8.  In Vivo Testing of MicroRNA-Mediated Gene Knockdown in Zebrafish 
The zebrafish (Danio rerio) has become an attractive model for human disease modeling as there are a large number of orthologous genes that encode similar proteins to those found in humans. The number of tools available to manipulate the zebrafish genome is limited and many currently used techniques are only effective during early development (such as morpholino-based antisense technology) or it is phenotypically driven and does not offer targeted gene knockdown (such as chemical mutagenesis). The use of RNA interference has been met with controversy as off-target effects can make interpreting phenotypic outcomes difficult; however, this has been resolved by creating zebrafish lines that contain stably integrated miRNA constructs that target the desired gene of interest. In this study, we show that a commercially available miRNA vector system with a mouse-derived miRNA backbone is functional in zebrafish and is effective in causing eGFP knockdown in a transient in vivo eGFP sensor assay system. We chose to apply this system to the knockdown of transcripts that are implicated in the human cardiac disorder, Long QT syndrome.
PMCID: PMC3303736  PMID: 22500088
9.  Functional genomics in zebrafish permits rapid characterization of novel platelet membrane proteins 
Blood  2009;113(19):4754-4762.
In this study, we demonstrate the suitability of the vertebrate Danio rerio (zebrafish) for functional screening of novel platelet genes in vivo by reverse genetics. Comparative transcript analysis of platelets and their precursor cell, the megakaryocyte, together with nucleated blood cell elements, endothelial cells, and erythroblasts, identified novel platelet membrane proteins with hitherto unknown roles in thrombus formation. We determined the phenotype induced by antisense morpholino oligonucleotide (MO)–based knockdown of 5 of these genes in a laser-induced arterial thrombosis model. To validate the model, the genes for platelet glycoprotein (GP) IIb and the coagulation protein factor VIII were targeted. MO-injected fish showed normal thrombus initiation but severely impaired thrombus growth, consistent with the mouse knockout phenotypes, and concomitant knockdown of both resulted in spontaneous bleeding. Knockdown of 4 of the 5 novel platelet proteins altered arterial thrombosis, as demonstrated by modified kinetics of thrombus initiation and/or development. We identified a putative role for BAMBI and LRRC32 in promotion and DCBLD2 and ESAM in inhibition of thrombus formation. We conclude that phenotypic analysis of MO-injected zebrafish is a fast and powerful method for initial screening of novel platelet proteins for function in thrombosis.
PMCID: PMC2680375  PMID: 19109564
10.  In vivo Electroporation of Morpholinos into the Regenerating Adult Zebrafish Tail Fin 
Certain species of urodeles and teleost fish can regenerate their tissues. Zebrafish have become a widely used model to study the spontaneous regeneration of adult tissues, such as the heart1, retina2, spinal cord3, optic nerve4, sensory hair cells5, and fins6.
The zebrafish fin is a relatively simple appendage that is easily manipulated to study multiple stages in epimorphic regeneration. Classically, fin regeneration was characterized by three distinct stages: wound healing, blastema formation, and fin outgrowth. After amputating part of the fin, the surrounding epithelium proliferates and migrates over the wound. At 33 °C, this process occurs within six hours post-amputation (hpa, Figure 1B)6,7. Next, underlying cells from different lineages (ex. bone, blood, glia, fibroblast) re-enter the cell cycle to form a proliferative blastema, while the overlying epidermis continues to proliferate (Figure 1D)8. Outgrowth occurs as cells proximal to the blastema re-differentiate into their respective lineages to form new tissue (Figure 1E)8. Depending on the level of the amputation, full regeneration is completed in a week to a month.
The expression of a large number of gene families, including wnt, hox, fgf, msx, retinoic acid, shh, notch, bmp, and activin-betaA genes, is up-regulated during specific stages of fin regeneration9-16. However, the roles of these genes and their encoded proteins during regeneration have been difficult to assess, unless a specific inhibitor for the protein exists13, a temperature-sensitive mutant exists or a transgenic animal (either overexpressing the wild-type protein or a dominant-negative protein) was generated7,12. We developed a reverse genetic technique to quickly and easily test the function of any gene during fin regeneration.
Morpholino oligonucleotides are widely used to study loss of specific proteins during zebrafish, Xenopus, chick, and mouse development17-19. Morpholinos basepair with a complementary RNA sequence to either block pre-mRNA splicing or mRNA translation. We describe a method to efficiently introduce fluorescein-tagged antisense morpholinos into regenerating zebrafish fins to knockdown expression of the target protein. The morpholino is micro-injected into each blastema of the regenerating zebrafish tail fin and electroporated into the surrounding cells. Fluorescein provides the charge to electroporate the morpholino and to visualize the morpholino in the fin tissue.
This protocol permits conditional protein knockdown to examine the role of specific proteins during regenerative fin outgrowth. In the Discussion, we describe how this approach can be adapted to study the role of specific proteins during wound healing or blastema formation, as well as a potential marker of cell migration during blastema formation.
PMCID: PMC3460582  PMID: 22491016
Developmental Biology;  Issue 61;  Electroporation;  morpholino;  zebrafish;  fin;  regeneration
11.  Manipulating Galectin Expression in Zebrafish (Danio rerio) 
Techniques for disrupting gene expression are invaluable tools for the analysis of the biological role of a gene product. Because of its genetic tractability and multiple advantages over conventional mammalian models, the zebrafish (Danio rerio) is recognized as a powerful system for gaining new insight into diverse aspects of human health and disease. Among the multiple mammalian gene families for which the zebrafish has shown promise as an invaluable model for functional studies, the galectins have attracted great interest due to their participation in early development, regulation of immune hoemostasis, and recognition of microbial pahtogens. Galectins are β-galactosyl-binding lectins with a characteristic sequence motif in their carbohydrate recognition domains (CRDs), that constitute an evolutionary conserved family ubiquitous in eukaryotic taxa. Galectins are emerging as key players in the modulation of many important pathological processes, which include acute and chronic inflammatory diseases, autoimmunity and cancer, thus making them potential molecular targets for innovative drug discovery. Here, we provide a review of the current methods available for the manipulation of gene expression in the zebrafish, with a focus on gene knockdown [morpholino (MO)-derived antisense oligonucleotides] and knockout (CRISPR-Cas) technologies.
PMCID: PMC4600349  PMID: 25253151
galectins; zebrafish; morpholino; CRISPR-Cas; gene expression; microinjection
12.  PhotoMorphs™: A Novel Light-Activated Reagent for Controlling Gene Expression in Zebrafish 
Genesis (New York, N.Y. : 2000)  2009;47(11):736-743.
Manipulating gene expression in zebrafish is critical for exploiting the full potential of this vertebrate model organism. Morpholino oligos are the most commonly employed antisense technology for knocking down gene expression. However, morpholinos suffer from a lack of control over the timing and location of knockdown. In this report, we describe a novel light-activatable knockdown reagent called PhotoMorph™. PhotoMorphs can be generated from existing morpholinos by hybridization with a complementary caging strand containing a photocleavable linkage. The caging strand neutralizes the morpholino activity until irradiation of the PhotoMorph with UV light releases the morpholino. We generated PhotoMorphs to target genes encoding enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP), No tail, and E-cadherin to illustrate the utility of this approach. Temporal control of gene expression with PhotoMorphs permitted us to circumvent the early lethal phenotype of E-cadherin knockdown. A splice-blocking PhotoMorph directed to the rheb gene showed light-dependent gene knockdown up to 72 hpf. PhotoMorphs thus offer a new class of laboratory reagents suitable for the spatiotemporal control of gene expression in the zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC2903619  PMID: 19644983
13.  The transcriptional activator ZNF143 is essential for normal development in zebrafish 
ZNF143 is a sequence-specific DNA-binding protein that stimulates transcription of both small RNA genes by RNA polymerase II or III, or protein-coding genes by RNA polymerase II, using separable activating domains. We describe phenotypic effects following knockdown of this protein in developing Danio rerio (zebrafish) embryos by injection of morpholino antisense oligonucleotides that target znf143 mRNA.
The loss of function phenotype is pleiotropic and includes a broad array of abnormalities including defects in heart, blood, ear and midbrain hindbrain boundary. Defects are rescued by coinjection of synthetic mRNA encoding full-length ZNF143 protein, but not by protein lacking the amino-terminal activation domains. Accordingly, expression of several marker genes is affected following knockdown, including GATA-binding protein 1 (gata1), cardiac myosin light chain 2 (cmlc2) and paired box gene 2a (pax2a). The zebrafish pax2a gene proximal promoter contains two binding sites for ZNF143, and reporter gene transcription driven by this promoter in transfected cells is activated by this protein.
Normal development of zebrafish embryos requires ZNF143. Furthermore, the pax2a gene is probably one example of many protein-coding gene targets of ZNF143 during zebrafish development.
PMCID: PMC3282657  PMID: 22268977
14.  The paracrine effect of exogenous growth hormone alleviates dysmorphogenesis caused by tbx5 deficiency in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos 
Dysmorphogenesis and multiple organ defects are well known in zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos with T-box transcription factor 5 (tbx5) deficiencies, mimicking human Holt-Oram syndrome.
Using an oligonucleotide-based microarray analysis to study the expression of special genes in tbx5 morphants, we demonstrated that GH and some GH-related genes were markedly downregulated. Zebrafish embryos microinjected with tbx5-morpholino (MO) antisense RNA and mismatched antisense RNA in the 1-cell stage served as controls, while zebrafish embryos co-injected with exogenous growth hormone (GH) concomitant with tbx5-MO comprised the treatment group.
The attenuating effects of GH in tbx5-MO knockdown embryos were quantified and observed at 24, 30, 48, 72, and 96 h post-fertilization. Though the understanding of mechanisms involving GH in the tbx5 functioning complex is limited, exogenous GH supplied to tbx5 knockdown zebrafish embryos is able to enhance the expression of downstream mediators in the GH and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1 pathway, including igf1, ghra, and ghrb, and signal transductors (erk1, akt2), and eventually to correct dysmorphogenesis in various organs including the heart and pectoral fins. Supplementary GH also reduced apoptosis as determined by a TUNEL assay and decreased the expression of apoptosis-related genes and proteins (bcl2 and bad) according to semiquantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction and immunohistochemical analysis, respectively, as well as improving cell cycle-related genes (p27 and cdk2) and cardiomyogenetic genes (amhc, vmhc, and cmlc2).
Based on our results, tbx5 knockdown causes a pseudo GH deficiency in zebrafish during early embryonic stages, and supplementation of exogenous GH can partially restore dysmorphogenesis, apoptosis, cell growth inhibition, and abnormal cardiomyogenesis in tbx5 knockdown zebrafish in a paracrine manner.
PMCID: PMC3407474  PMID: 22776023
tbx5; Growth hormone; Apoptosis; Embryogenesis; Zebrafish
15.  Differential Responses to Wnt and PCP Disruption Predict Expression and Developmental Function of Conserved and Novel Genes in a Cnidarian 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(9):e1004590.
We have used Digital Gene Expression analysis to identify, without bilaterian bias, regulators of cnidarian embryonic patterning. Transcriptome comparison between un-manipulated Clytia early gastrula embryos and ones in which the key polarity regulator Wnt3 was inhibited using morpholino antisense oligonucleotides (Wnt3-MO) identified a set of significantly over and under-expressed transcripts. These code for candidate Wnt signaling modulators, orthologs of other transcription factors, secreted and transmembrane proteins known as developmental regulators in bilaterian models or previously uncharacterized, and also many cnidarian-restricted proteins. Comparisons between embryos injected with morpholinos targeting Wnt3 and its receptor Fz1 defined four transcript classes showing remarkable correlation with spatiotemporal expression profiles. Class 1 and 3 transcripts tended to show sustained expression at “oral” and “aboral” poles respectively of the developing planula larva, class 2 transcripts in cells ingressing into the endodermal region during gastrulation, while class 4 gene expression was repressed at the early gastrula stage. The preferential effect of Fz1-MO on expression of class 2 and 4 transcripts can be attributed to Planar Cell Polarity (PCP) disruption, since it was closely matched by morpholino knockdown of the specific PCP protein Strabismus. We conclude that endoderm and post gastrula-specific gene expression is particularly sensitive to PCP disruption while Wnt-/β-catenin signaling dominates gene regulation along the oral-aboral axis. Phenotype analysis using morpholinos targeting a subset of transcripts indicated developmental roles consistent with expression profiles for both conserved and cnidarian-restricted genes. Overall our unbiased screen allowed systematic identification of regionally expressed genes and provided functional support for a shared eumetazoan developmental regulatory gene set with both predicted and previously unexplored members, but also demonstrated that fundamental developmental processes including axial patterning and endoderm formation in cnidarians can involve newly evolved (or highly diverged) genes.
Author Summary
The recent wave of genome sequencing from many species has revealed that most of the gene families known to regulate animal development are shared not only between humans and laboratory favorites such as mice, flies and worms, but also by evolutionarily more distant animals such as jellyfish and sponges. It is often assumed that genes inherited from a common ancestor remain largely responsible for regulating embryogenesis across these animal species, rather than more recently evolved genes. To address this issue we made an unbiased, systematic search for developmental genes in embryos of the jellyfish Clytia, selecting genes whose expression altered upon manipulation of the key regulator Wnt3, and comparing their expression in embryos specifically disrupted for Planar Cell Polarity. Identification of evolutionarily conserved and novel genes as developmental regulators was confirmed by demonstrating characteristic expression profiles for a sub-set of genes, and by gene knockdown studies. Conserved genes coded for members of many known signaling pathway and transcription factor families, as well as previously unstudied proteins. Nearly 30% of the identified genes were restricted to cnidarians (the jellyfish-sea anemone-coral group), supporting the idea that the appearance of new genes during evolution contributed significantly to generating animal diversity.
PMCID: PMC4169000  PMID: 25233086
16.  A Loss of Function Screen of Identified Genome-Wide Association Study Loci Reveals New Genes Controlling Hematopoiesis 
PLoS Genetics  2014;10(7):e1004450.
The formation of mature cells by blood stem cells is very well understood at the cellular level and we know many of the key transcription factors that control fate decisions. However, many upstream signalling and downstream effector processes are only partially understood. Genome wide association studies (GWAS) have been particularly useful in providing new directions to dissect these pathways. A GWAS meta-analysis identified 68 genetic loci controlling platelet size and number. Only a quarter of those genes, however, are known regulators of hematopoiesis. To determine function of the remaining genes we performed a medium-throughput genetic screen in zebrafish using antisense morpholino oligonucleotides (MOs) to knock down protein expression, followed by histological analysis of selected genes using a wide panel of different hematopoietic markers. The information generated by the initial knockdown was used to profile phenotypes and to position candidate genes hierarchically in hematopoiesis. Further analysis of brd3a revealed its essential role in differentiation but not maintenance and survival of thrombocytes. Using the from-GWAS-to-function strategy we have not only identified a series of genes that represent novel regulators of thrombopoiesis and hematopoiesis, but this work also represents, to our knowledge, the first example of a functional genetic screening strategy that is a critical step toward obtaining biologically relevant functional data from GWA study for blood cell traits.
Author Summary
In this manuscript we report on a follow-up study of the GWAS loci associated with the platelet size and number. A GWAS meta-analysis identified 68 genetic loci controlling platelet size and number. Only a quarter of those genes, however, are known regulators of hematopoiesis. To determine function of the remaining genes we performed a medium-throughput genetic screen in zebrafish using morpholinos (MOs) to knock down selected candidate genes. Here, we report on two major findings. First we identified 15 genes (corresponding to 12 human genes) required for distinct stages of specification or differentiation of HSCs in zebrafish. A detailed review of databases and literature revealed limited knowledge about the functional role of Satb1, Rcor1 and Brd3 in hematopoiesis and for the remaining nine genes our work represents the first study on their putative role in hematopoiesis. And secondly, we demonstrate that brd3a is critical for establishing, but not maintaining thrombopoietic compartment. Importantly, our study introduces zebrafish as a model system for functional follow-up of GWAS loci and generates a valuable resource for prioritization of platelet size and number associated genes for future in-depth mechanistic analyses. Following this route of investigation new regulatory molecules of hematopoiesis will be added to critical pathways.
PMCID: PMC4091788  PMID: 25010335
17.  Vivo-Morpholino knockdown of αIIb: A novel approach to inhibit thrombocyte function in adult zebrafish 
Blood cells, molecules & diseases  2010;44(3):169-174.
Knockdown of protein function by antisense oligonucleotides has been used to understand the protein function not only in development but also in human diseases. Recently, Vivo-Morpholinos, chemically modified morpholinos which penetrate the cells, have been used in adult experimental animal models to alter the splicing and thereby change the protein expression. Until now, there have been no such studies using Vivo-Morpholinos, to evaluate hemostatic function in adult animals. We injected αIIb Vivo-Morpholinos intravenously into adult zebrafish. Thrombocyte function was assayed by time to aggregation assay of the citrated blood, annexin V binding to thrombocytes, and gill bleeding. The thrombocyte functional inhibition occurred in 24 hrs after αIIb Vivo-Morpholinos injection and reached a maximum in 48 hrs. However, in 72 hrs, the inhibition was no longer observed. Reduction of annexin V binding to thrombocytes and increased gill bleeding were observed 48 hrs after αIIb Vivo-Morpholino injections. The action of the αIIb Vivo-Morpholino was demonstrated by the presence of an alternatively spliced αIIb mRNA and the reduction of αIIb in thrombocytes of fish treated with αIIb Vivo-Morpholino. These results provide the first proof of principle that thrombocyte function can be inhibited by thrombocyte-specific Vivo-Morpholinos in adult zebrafish and presents an approach to knockdown thrombocyte-specific genes to conduct biochemical studies in thrombocytes. This study also provides the first antisense antithrombotic approach to inhibit thrombocyte function in adult zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC2829358  PMID: 20045356
18.  Cerebroventricular Microinjection (CVMI) into Adult Zebrafish Brain Is an Efficient Misexpression Method for Forebrain Ventricular Cells 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27395.
The teleost fish Danio rerio (zebrafish) has a remarkable ability to generate newborn neurons in its brain at adult stages of its lifespan-a process called adult neurogenesis. This ability relies on proliferating ventricular progenitors and is in striking contrast to mammalian brains that have rather restricted capacity for adult neurogenesis. Therefore, investigating the zebrafish brain can help not only to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of widespread adult neurogenesis in a vertebrate species, but also to design therapies in humans with what we learn from this teleost. Yet, understanding the cellular behavior and molecular programs underlying different biological processes in the adult zebrafish brain requires techniques that allow manipulation of gene function. As a complementary method to the currently used misexpression techniques in zebrafish, such as transgenic approaches or electroporation-based delivery of DNA, we devised a cerebroventricular microinjection (CVMI)-assisted knockdown protocol that relies on vivo morpholino oligonucleotides, which do not require electroporation for cellular uptake. This rapid method allows uniform and efficient knockdown of genes in the ventricular cells of the zebrafish brain, which contain the neurogenic progenitors. We also provide data on the use of CVMI for growth factor administration to the brain – in our case FGF8, which modulates the proliferation rate of the ventricular cells. In this paper, we describe the CVMI method and discuss its potential uses in zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC3208640  PMID: 22076157
19.  Depletion of zebrafish essential and regulatory myosin light chains reduces cardiac function through distinct mechanisms 
Cardiovascular research  2008;79(1):97-108.
Mutations in the essential myosin light chain (ELC) and regulatory myosin light chain (RLC) genes have been linked to sarcomeric hypertrophic cardiomyopathies in humans; however, the specific functions of the different myosin light chains during cardiogenesis in a vertebrate animal are not well understood.
Methods and results
Using zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model organism, we have identified cmlc1 and cmlc2 as the main ELC and RLC orthologues, respectively, and have furthermore characterized their functions during cardiogenesis by morpholino technology. Depletion of either cmlc1 or cmlc2 using morpholino-modified antisense oligonucleotides leads to a disruption in sarcomere structure and compromises cardiac function as well, although through seemingly distinct mechanisms. While myosin still assembles into a novel rod-like structure in both morphants, the sarcomere length is longer in cmlc1 morphants than that in wild-type embryos, whereas it is shorter in cmlc2 morphants. In addition, cardiomyocyte size and number are increased upon depletion of cmlc1, resulting in a larger ventricular chamber volume; in contrast, depletion of cmlc2 leads to a reduction in cardiomyocyte size and number.
Our data have elucidated distinct roles for cmlc1 and cmlc2 during zebrafish cardiogenesis, suggesting that cardiomyopathies resulting from human mutations in ELCs vs. RLCs may have distinct pathological characteristics during disease progression.
PMCID: PMC2724891  PMID: 18343897
Cardiomyopathy; Contractile apparatus; Contractile function; Hypertrophy; Ventricular function
20.  Knockdown of a Zebrafish Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Repressor (AHRRa) Affects Expression of Genes Related to Photoreceptor Development and Hematopoiesis 
Toxicological Sciences  2014;139(2):381-395.
The aryl hydrocarbon receptor repressor (AHRR) is a transcriptional repressor of aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) and hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) and is regulated by an AHR-dependent mechanism. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) possess two AHRR paralogs; AHRRa regulates constitutive AHR signaling during development, whereas AHRRb regulates polyaromatic hydrocarbon-induced gene expression. However, little is known about the endogenous roles and targets of AHRRs. The objective of this study was to elucidate the role of AHRRs during zebrafish development using a loss-of-function approach followed by gene expression analysis. Zebrafish embryos were microinjected with morpholino oligonucleotides against AHRRa or AHRRb to knockdown AHRR protein expression. At 72 h postfertilization (hpf), microarray analysis revealed that the expression of 279 and 116 genes was altered by knockdown of AHRRa and AHRRb, respectively. In AHRRa-morphant embryos, 97 genes were up-regulated and 182 genes were down-regulated. Among the down-regulated genes were several related to photoreceptor function, including cone-specific genes such as several opsins (opn1sw1, opn1sw2, opn1mw1, and opn1lw2), phosphodiesterases (pde6H and pde6C), retinol binding protein (rbp4l), phosducin, and arrestins. Down-regulation was confirmed by RT-PCR and with samples from an independent experiment. The four genes tested (opn1sw1, pde6H, pde6C, and arr3b) were not inducible by 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin. AHRRa knockdown also caused up-regulation of embryonic hemoglobin (hbbe3), suggesting a role for AHRR in regulating hematopoiesis. Knockdown of AHRRb caused up-regulation of 31 genes and down-regulation of 85 genes, without enrichment for any specific biological process. Overall, these results suggest that AHRRs may have important roles in development, in addition to their roles in regulating xenobiotic signaling.
PMCID: PMC4031623  PMID: 24675095
microarrays; morpholino oligonucleotides; opsins; cones; development; repressor; zebrafish; aryl hydrocarbon receptor; dioxin; TCDD; AHR; AHRR
21.  2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin Upregulates FoxQ1b in Zebrafish Jaw Primordium 
Chemical research in toxicology  2010;23(3):480-487.
Vertebrate jaw development can be disrupted by exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)—a potent activator of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) transcription factor required for transducing the toxic effects of TCDD. We used zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryos to investigate transcriptional responses to TCDD with the goal of discovering novel, jaw-specific genes affected by TCDD exposure. Our results uncovered a novel target of TCDD-activated Ahr belonging to the evolutionarily conserved family of forkhead box transcription factors. Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction analysis demonstrated that FoxQ1b was upregulated by TCDD 7- and 10-fold at 24 and 48 h postfertilization (hpf), respectively. The rate of TCDD-induced FoxQ1b expression was more rapid than that of Cyp1a, a known direct target of TCDD-activated Ahr. TCDD-mediated induction of FoxQ1b was suppressed in the presence of an Ahr antagonist, α-naphthoflavone, as well as following knockdown of Ahr2 expression using an Ahr2-specific morpholino antisense oligonucleotide. In situ hybridization analysis of FoxQ1b expression at 48 hpf demonstrated that FoxQ1b is specifically expressed in the jaw primordium where it discretely outlines a developing jaw structure known as Meckel’s cartilage—a conserved structure in all jawed vertebrates that develops abnormally in the presence of TCDD. These results identify a novel target of TCDD-activated Ahr and suggest that FoxQ1b may play a role in craniofacial abnormalities induced by developmental exposure to TCDD.
PMCID: PMC2839046  PMID: 20055451
22.  Role of zebrafish cytochrome P450 CYP1C genes in the reduced mesencephalic vein blood flow caused by activation of AHR2 
Toxicology and applied pharmacology  2011;253(3):244-252.
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) causes various signs of toxicity in early life stages of vertebrates through activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR). We previously reported a sensitive and useful endpoint of TCDD developmental toxicity in zebrafish, namely a decrease in blood flow in the dorsal midbrain, but downstream genes involved in the effect are not known. The present study addressed the role of zebrafish cytochrome P450 1C (CYP1C) genes in association with a decrease in mesencephalic vein (MsV) blood flow. The CYP1C subfamily was recently discovered in fish and includes the paralogues CYP1C1 and CYP1C2, both of which are induced via AHR2 in zebrafish embryos. We used morpholino antisense oligonucleotides (MO or morpholino) to block initiation of translation of the target genes. TCDD-induced mRNA expression of CYP1Cs and a decrease in MsV blood flow were both blocked by gene knockdown of AHR2. Gene knockdown of CYP1C1 by two different morpholinos and CYP1C2 by two different morpholinos, but not by their 5 nucleotide-mismatch controls, was effective in blocking reduced MsV blood flow caused by TCDD. The same CYP1C-MOs prevented reduction of blood flow in the MsV caused by β-naphthoflavone (BNF), representing another class of AHR agonists. Whole mount in situ hybridization revealed that mRNA expression of CYP1C1 and CYP1C2 were induced by TCDD most strongly in branchiogenic primordia and pectoral fin buds. In situ hybridization using head transverse sections showed that TCDD increased the expression of both CYP1Cs in endothelial cells of blood vessels, including the MsV. These results indicate a potential role of CYP1C1 and CYP1C2 in the local circulation failure induced by AHR2 activation in the dorsal midbrain of the zebrafish embryo.
PMCID: PMC3143178  PMID: 21504756
aryl hydrocarbon; β-naphthoflavone (BNF); blood flow; cytochrome P450 (CYP); 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD); zebrafish embryo
23.  Functional Analysis of Human Hematopoietic Stem Cell Gene Expression Using Zebrafish 
PLoS Biology  2005;3(8):e254.
Although several reports have characterized the hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transcriptome, the roles of HSC-specific genes in hematopoiesis remain elusive. To identify candidate regulators of HSC fate decisions, we compared the transcriptome of human umbilical cord blood and bone marrow CD34+CD33−CD38−Rholoc-kit+ cells, enriched for hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells with CD34+CD33−CD38−Rhohi cells, enriched in committed progenitors. We identified 277 differentially expressed transcripts conserved in these ontogenically distinct cell sources. We next performed a morpholino antisense oligonucleotide (MO)-based functional screen in zebrafish to determine the hematopoietic function of 61 genes that had no previously known function in HSC biology and for which a likely zebrafish ortholog could be identified. MO knock down of 14/61 (23%) of the differentially expressed transcripts resulted in hematopoietic defects in developing zebrafish embryos, as demonstrated by altered levels of circulating blood cells at 30 and 48 h postfertilization and subsequently confirmed by quantitative RT-PCR for erythroid-specific hbae1 and myeloid-specific lcp1 transcripts. Recapitulating the knockdown phenotype using a second MO of independent sequence, absence of the phenotype using a mismatched MO sequence, and rescue of the phenotype by cDNA-based overexpression of the targeted transcript for zebrafish spry4 confirmed the specificity of MO targeting in this system. Further characterization of the spry4-deficient zebrafish embryos demonstrated that hematopoietic defects were not due to more widespread defects in the mesodermal development, and therefore represented primary defects in HSC specification, proliferation, and/or differentiation. Overall, this high-throughput screen for the functional validation of differentially expressed genes using a zebrafish model of hematopoiesis represents a major step toward obtaining meaningful information from global gene profiling of HSCs.
Microarray studies are combined with a functional screen in zebrafish to identify new genes that are involved in the function and differentiation of hematopoietic stem cells.
PMCID: PMC1166352  PMID: 16089502
24.  A Possible Zebrafish Model of Polycystic Kidney Disease: Knockdown of wnt5a Causes Cysts in Zebrafish Kidneys 
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is one of the most common causes of end-stage kidney disease, a devastating disease for which there is no cure. The molecular mechanisms leading to cyst formation in PKD remain somewhat unclear, but many genes are thought to be involved. Wnt5a is a non-canonical glycoprotein that regulates a wide range of developmental processes. Wnt5a works through the planar cell polarity (PCP) pathway that regulates oriented cell division during renal tubular cell elongation. Defects of the PCP pathway have been found to cause kidney cyst formation. Our paper describes a method for developing a zebrafish cystic kidney disease model by knockdown of the wnt5a gene with wnt5a antisense morpholino (MO) oligonucleotides. Tg(wt1b:GFP) transgenic zebrafish were used to visualize kidney structure and kidney cysts following wnt5a knockdown. Two distinct antisense MOs (AUG - and splice-site) were used and both resulted in curly tail down phenotype and cyst formation after wnt5a knockdown. Injection of mouse Wnt5a mRNA, resistant to the MOs due to a difference in primary base pair structure, rescued the abnormal phenotype, demonstrating that the phenotype was not due to “off-target” effects of the morpholino. This work supports the validity of using a zebrafish model to study wnt5a function in the kidney.
PMCID: PMC4354438  PMID: 25489842
Medicine; Issue 94; Wnt5a; polycystic kidney disease; morpholino; microinjection; zebrafish; pronephros
25.  Zebrafish Cardiotoxicity: The Effects of CYP1A Inhibition and AHR2 Knockdown Following Exposure to Weak Aryl Hydrocarbon Receptor Agonists 
The aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) is a ligand-activated transcription factor that mediates many of the toxic effects of dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) and some polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Strong AHR agonists, such as certain polychlorinated biphenyls and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD), cause severe cardiac teratogenesis in fish embryos. Moderately strong AHR agonists, such as benzo[a]pyrene and β-naphthoflavone, have been shown to cause similar cardiotoxic effects when coupled with a cytochrome P450 1A (CYP1A) inhibitor, such as fluoranthene (FL). We sought to determine if weak AHR agonists, when combined with a CYP1A inhibitor (FL) or CYP1A morpholino gene knockdown, are capable of causing cardiac deformities similar to moderately strong AHR agonists (Wassenberg and Di Giulio 2004; Wassenberg and Di Giulio 2004; Billiard, Timme-Laragy et al. 2006; Van Tiem and Di Giulio 2011). The weak AHR agonists included the following: carbaryl, phenanthrene, 2-methylindole, 3-methylindole, indigo, and indirubin. The results showed a complex pattern of cardiotoxic response to weak agonist inhibitor exposure and morpholino-knockdown. Danio rerio (zebrafish) embryos were first exposed to weak AHR agonists at equimolar concentrations. The agonists were assessed for their relative potency as inducers of CYP1 enzyme activity, measured by the ethoxyresorufin-o-deethylase (EROD) assay, and cardiac deformities. Carbaryl, 2-methylindole, and 3-methylindole induced the highest CYP1A activity in zebrafish. Experiments were then conducted to determine the individual cardiotoxicity of each compound. Next, zebrafish were co-exposed to each agonist (at concentrations below those determined to be cardiotoxic) and FL in combination to assess if CYP1A inhibition could induce cardiac deformities. Carbaryl, 2-methylindole, 3-methylindole, and phenanthrene significantly increased pericardial edema relative to controls when combined with FL. To further evaluate the interaction of the weak AHR agonists and CYP1A inhibition, a morpholino was used to knockdown CYP1A expression, and embryos were then exposed to each agonist individually. In embryos exposed to 2-MI, CYP1A knockdown caused a similar level of pericardial edema to that caused by exposure to 2-MI and FL. However, CYP1A knockdown in phenanthrene and 3-methylindole only moderately increased pericardial edema relative to co-exposure to FL. AHR2 expression was also knocked down using a morpholino to determine its role in mediating the observed cardiac teratogenesis. Knockdown of AHR2 did not rescue the pericardial edema as previously observed with strong AHR agonists. While some of the cardiotoxicity observed may be attributed to the combination of weak AHR agonism and CYP1A inhibition, other weak AHR agonists appear to be causing cardiotoxicity through an AHR2-independent mechanism. The data show that CYP1A is protective of the cardiac toxicity associated with weak AHR agonists and that knockdown can generate pericardial edema, but these findings are also suggestive of differing mechanisms of cardiac toxicity among known AHR agonists.
PMCID: PMC4442063  PMID: 25532870
Aryl hydrocarbon receptor agonist; Cardiotoxicity; Zebrafish; Teratogenesis; Cytochrome P450; Morpholino

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