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.