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1.  zTrap: zebrafish gene trap and enhancer trap database 
We have developed genetic methods in zebrafish by using the Tol2 transposable element; namely, transgenesis, gene trapping, enhancer trapping and the Gal4FF-UAS system. Gene trap constructs contain a splice acceptor and the GFP or Gal4FF (a modified version of the yeast Gal4 transcription activator) gene, and enhancer trap constructs contain the zebrafish hsp70l promoter and the GFP or Gal4FF gene. By performing genetic screens using these constructs, we have generated transgenic zebrafish that express GFP and Gal4FF in specific cells, tissues and organs. Gal4FF expression is visualized by creating double transgenic fish carrying a Gal4FF transgene and the GFP reporter gene placed downstream of the Gal4-recognition sequence (UAS). Further, the Gal4FF-expressing cells can be manipulated by mating with UAS effector fish. For instance, when fish expressing Gal4FF in specific neurons are crossed with the UAS:TeTxLC fish carrying the tetanus neurotoxin gene downstream of UAS, the neuronal activities are inhibited in the double transgenic fish. Thus, these transgenic fish are useful to study developmental biology and neurobiology.
To increase the usefulness of the transgenic fish resource, we developed a web-based database named zTrap The zTrap database contains images of GFP and Gal4FF expression patterns, and genomic DNA sequences surrounding the integration sites of the gene trap and enhancer trap constructs. The integration sites are mapped onto the Ensembl zebrafish genome by in-house Blat analysis and can be viewed on the zTrap and Ensembl genome browsers. Furthermore, zTrap is equipped with the functionality to search these data for expression patterns and genomic loci of interest. zTrap contains the information about transgenic fish including UAS reporter and effector fish.
zTrap is a useful resource to find gene trap and enhancer trap fish lines that express GFP and Gal4FF in desired patterns, and to find insertions of the gene trap and enhancer trap constructs that are located within or near genes of interest. These transgenic fish can be utilized to observe specific cell types during embryogenesis, to manipulate their functions, and to discover novel genes and cis-regulatory elements. Therefore, zTrap should facilitate studies on genomics, developmental biology and neurobiology utilizing the transgenic zebrafish resource.
PMCID: PMC2970601  PMID: 20950494
2.  Transactivation from Gal4-VP16 transgenic insertions for tissue-specific cell labeling and ablation in zebrafish 
Developmental biology  2007;304(2):811-824.
Prior studies with transgenic zebrafish confirmed the functionality of the transcription factor Gal4 to drive expression of other genes under the regulation of upstream activator sequences (UAS). However, widespread application of this powerful binary system has been limited, in part, by relatively inefficient techniques for establishing transgenic zebrafish and by the inadequacy of Gal4 to effect high levels of expression from UAS-regulated genes. We have used the Tol2 transposition system to distribute a self-reporting gene/enhancer trap vector efficiently throughout the zebrafish genome. The vector uses the potent, hybrid transcription factor Gal4-VP16 to activate expression from a UAS:eGFP reporter cassette. In a pilot screen, stable transgenic lines were established that express eGFP in reproducible patterns encompassing a wide variety of tissues, including the brain, spinal cord, retina, notochord, cranial skeleton and muscle, and can transactivate other UAS-regulated genes. We demonstrate the utility of this approach to track Gal4-VP16 expressing migratory cells in UAS:Kaede transgenic fish, and to induce tissue-specific cell death using a bacterial nitroreductase gene under UAS control. The Tol2-mediated gene/enhancer trapping system together with UAS transgenic lines provide valuable tools for regulated gene expression and for targeted labeling and ablation of specific cell types and tissues during early zebrafish development.
PMCID: PMC3470427  PMID: 17335798
Cell tracing; photoconversion; gene trap; enhancer trap; Tol2 transposon; nitroreductase
3.  The Cellular Architecture of the Larval Zebrafish Tectum, as Revealed by Gal4 Enhancer Trap Lines 
We have carried out a Gal4 enhancer trap screen in zebrafish, and have generated 184 stable transgenic lines with interesting expression patterns throughout the nervous system. Of these, three display clear expression in the tectum, each with a distinguishable and stereotyped distribution of Gal4 expressing cells. Detailed morphological analysis of single cells, using a genetic “Golgi-like” labelling method, revealed four common cell types (superficial, periventricular, shallow periventricular, and radial glial), along with a range of other less common neurons. The shallow periventricular (PV) and a subset of the PV neurons are tectal efferent neurons that target various parts of the reticular formation. We find that it is specifically PV neurons with dendrites in the deep tectal neuropil that target the reticular formation. This indicates that these neurons receive the tectum's highly processed visual information (which is fed from the superficial retinorecipient layers), and relay it to premotor regions. Our results show that the larval tectum, both broadly and at the single cell level, strongly resembles a miniature version of its adult counterpart, and that it has all of the necessary anatomical characteristics to inform motor responses based on sensory input. We also demonstrate that mosaic expression of GFP in Gal4 enhancer trap lines can be used to describe the types and abundance of cells in an expression pattern, including the architectures of individual neurons. Such detailed anatomical descriptions will be an important part of future efforts to describe the functions of discrete tectal circuits in the generation of behavior.
PMCID: PMC2763897  PMID: 19862330
zebrafish; tectum; Gal4/UAS; anatomy; neuron; single-cell morphology; periventricular; transgenics
4.  Labelling and targeted ablation of specific bipolar cell types in the zebrafish retina 
BMC Neuroscience  2009;10:107.
Development of a functional retina depends on regulated differentiation of several types of neurons and generation of a highly complex network between the different types of neurons. In addition, each type of retinal neuron includes several distinct morphological types. Very little is known about the mechanisms responsible for generating this diversity of retinal neurons, which may also display specific patterns of regional distribution.
In a screen in zebrafish, using a trapping vector carrying an engineered yeast Gal4 transcription activator and a UAS:eGFP reporter cassette, we have identified two transgenic lines of zebrafish co-expressing eGFP and Gal4 in specific subsets of retinal bipolar cells. The eGFP-labelling facilitated analysis of axon terminals within the inner plexiform layer of the adult retina and showed that the fluorescent bipolar cells correspond to previously defined morphological types. Strong regional restriction of eGFP-positive bipolar cells to the central part of the retina surrounding the optic nerve was observed in adult zebrafish. Furthermore, we achieved specific ablation of the labelled bipolar cells in 5 days old larvae, using a bacterial nitroreductase gene under Gal4-UAS control in combination with the prodrug metronidazole. Following prodrug treatment, nitroreductase expressing bipolar cells were efficiently ablated without affecting surrounding retina architecture, and recovery occurred within a few days due to increased generation of new bipolar cells.
This report shows that enhancer trapping can be applied to label distinct morphological types of bipolar cells in the zebrafish retina. The genetic labelling of these cells yielded co-expression of a modified Gal4 transcription activator and the fluorescent marker eGFP. Our work also demonstrates the potential utility of the Gal4-UAS system for induction of other transgenes, including a bacterial nitroreductase fusion gene, which can facilitate analysis of bipolar cell differentiation and how the retina recovers from specific ablation of these cells.
PMCID: PMC3224687  PMID: 19712466
5.  Mutations in gfpt1 and skiv2l2 Cause Distinct Stage-Specific Defects in Larval Melanocyte Regeneration in Zebrafish 
PLoS Genetics  2007;3(6):e88.
The establishment of a single cell type regeneration paradigm in the zebrafish provides an opportunity to investigate the genetic mechanisms specific to regeneration processes. We previously demonstrated that regeneration melanocytes arise from cell division of the otherwise quiescent melanocyte precursors following larval melanocyte ablation with a small molecule, MoTP. The ease of ablating melanocytes by MoTP allows us to conduct a forward genetic screen for mechanisms specific to regeneration from such precursors or stem cells. Here, we reported the identification of two mutants, earthaj23e1 and juliej24e1 from a melanocyte ablation screen. Both mutants develop normal larval melanocytes, but upon melanocyte ablation, each mutation results in a distinct stage-specific defect in melanocyte regeneration. Positional cloning reveals that the earthaj23e1 mutation is a nonsense mutation in gfpt1 (glutamine:fructose-6-phosphate aminotransferase 1), the rate-limiting enzyme in glucosamine-6-phosphate biosynthesis. Our analyses reveal that a mutation in gfpt1 specifically affects melanocyte differentiation (marked by melanin production) at a late stage during regeneration and that gfpt1 acts cell autonomously in melanocytes to promote ontogenetic melanocyte darkening. We identified that the juliej24e1 mutation is a splice-site mutation in skiv2l2 (superkiller viralicidic activity 2-like 2), a predicted DEAD-box RNA helicase. Our in situ analysis reveals that the mutation in skiv2l2 causes defects in cell proliferation, suggesting that skiv2l2 plays a role in regulating melanoblast proliferation during early stages of melanocyte regeneration. This finding is consistent with previously described role for cell division during larval melanocyte regeneration. The analyses of these mutants reveal their stage-specific roles in melanocyte regeneration. Interestingly, these mutants identify regeneration-specific functions not only in early stages of the regeneration process, but also in late stages of differentiation of the regenerating melanocyte. We suggest that mechanisms of regeneration identified in this mutant screen may reveal fundamental differences between the mechanisms that establish differentiated cells during embryogenesis, and those involved in larval or adult growth.
Author Summary
Programs of ontogenetic development and regeneration share many components. Differences in genetic requirements between regeneration and development may identify mechanisms specific to the stem cells that maintain cell populations in postembryonic stages, or identify other regeneration-specific functions. Here, we utilize a forward genetic approach that takes advantage of single cell type ablation and regeneration to isolate mechanisms specific to regeneration of the zebrafish melanocyte. Upon chemical ablation of melanocytes, zebrafish larvae reconstitute their larval pigment pattern from undifferentiated precursors or stem cells. We isolated two zebrafish mutants that develop embryonic melanocytes normally but fail to regenerate their melanocytes upon ablation. This phenotype suggests the regeneration-specific roles of the mutated genes. We further identified the mutations in gfpt1 and skiv2l2 and show their stage-specific roles in melanocyte regeneration. Interestingly, these mutants identify regeneration-specific functions not only in early stages of the regeneration process (skiv2l2), but also in late stages of differentiation of the regenerating melanocyte (gfpt1). We suggest that mechanisms of regeneration identified in this mutant screen may reveal fundamental differences between the mechanisms that establish differentiated cells during embryogenesis and those involved in larval or adult growth.
PMCID: PMC1885281  PMID: 17542649
6.  The Tol2-mediated Gal4-UAS method for gene and enhancer trapping in zebrafish 
Methods (San Diego, Calif.)  2009;49(3):275-281.
The Gal4-UAS system provides powerful tools to analyze the function of genes and cells in vivo and has been extensively employed in Drosophila. The usefulness of this approach relies on the P element-mediated Gal4 enhancer trapping, which can efficiently generate transgenic fly lines expressing Gal4 in specific cells. Similar approaches, however, had not been developed in vertebrate systems due to the lack of an efficient transgenesis method. We have been developing transposon techniques by using the madaka fish Tol2 element. Taking advantage of its ability to generate genome-wide insertions, we developed the Gal4 gene trap and enhancer trap methods in zebrafish that enabled us to create various transgenic fish expressing Gal4 in specific cells. The Gal4-expressing cells can be visualized and manipulated in vivo by crossing the transgenic lines with transgenic fish lines carrying various reporter and effector genes downstream of UAS (upstream activating sequence). Thus, the Gal4 gene trap and enhancer trap methods together with UAS lines now make detailed analyses of genes and cells in zebrafish feasible. Here, we describe the protocols to perform Gal4 gene trap and enhancer trap screens in zebrafish and their application to the studies of vertebrate neural circuits.
PMCID: PMC2764541  PMID: 19835787
7.  A transgenic line with Gal4 insertion useful to study morphogenesis of craniofacial perichondrium, vascular endothelium-associated cells, floor plate, and dorsal midline radial glia during zebrafish development 
Development, growth & differentiation  2012;54(2):10.1111/j.1440-169X.2011.01322.x.
Zebrafish is a good model for studying vertebrate development because of the availability of powerful genetic tools. We are interested in the study of the craniofacial skeletal structure of the zebrafish. For this purpose, we performed a gene trap screen and identified a Gal4 gene trap line, SAGFF(LF)134A. We then analyzed the expression pattern of SAGFF(LF)134A;Tg(UAS:GFP) and found that GFP was expressed not only in craniofacial skeletal elements but also in the vascular system, as well as in the nervous system. In craniofacial skeletal elements, strong GFP expression was detected not only in chondrocytes but also in the perichondrium. In the vascular system, GFP was expressed in endothelium-associated cells. In the spinal cord, strong GFP expression was found in the floor plate, and later in the dorsal radial glia located on the midline. Taking advantage of this transgenic line, which drives Gal4 expression in specific tissues, we crossed SAGFF(LF)134A with several UAS reporter lines. In particular, time-lapse imaging of photoconverted floor-plate cells of SAGFF(LF)134A;Tg(UAS:KikGR) revealed that the floor-plate cells changed their shape within 36 hours from cuboidal/trapezoidal to wine glass shaped. Moreover, we identified a novel mode of association between axons and glia. The putative paths for the commissural axons, including pax8-positive CoBL interneurons, were identified as small openings in the basal endfoot of each floor plate. Our results indicate that the transgenic line would be useful for studying the morphogenesis of less-well-characterized tissues of interest, including the perichondrium, dorsal midline radial glia, late-stage floor plate, and vascular endothelium-associated cells.
PMCID: PMC3814014  PMID: 22348745
Cartilage; Rohon-Beard cells; Commissural axons; IR-LEGO; KikGR
8.  Targeting retinal dopaminergic neurons in tyrosine hydroxylase-driven green fluorescent protein transgenic zebrafish 
Molecular Vision  2008;14:2475-2483.
Dopamine plays key roles in a variety of basic functions in the central nervous system. To study developmental and functional roles of dopaminergic cells in zebrafish, we have generated a transgenic line of zebrafish expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of the tyrosine hydroxylase (th1) promoter.
A 12 kb gene fragment that contains the th1 promoter was isolated and ligated to the MmGFP coding sequence, linearized, microinjected into 1–2 cell stage embryos and the founders crossed with wild-type fish to screen for transgenic lines. Tg(−12th:MmGFP) embryos were visualized under fluorescence microscopy for GFP expression during development. Confocal microscopy was used to visualize GFP-labeled cells in the living whole mount retina and immunostained vertical sections of adult zebrafish retina. Single-cell reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT–PCR) was performed on individual GFP+ cells collected from dispersed retinal cell cultures for th1 and dopamine transporter (dat). Loose-patch recordings of spike activity of GFP+ neurons were made in isolated whole mount retinas.
th1 promoter-driven GFP exhibited robust expression in the brain and retina during zebrafish development. In juvenile and adult fish retinas, GFP was expressed in cells located in the inner nuclear layer. Immunocytochemistry with antibodies for GFP and TH showed that 29±2% of GFP-labeled cells also expressed TH. Two subpopulations of GFP-labeled cells were identified by fluorescent microscopy: bright GFP-expressing cells and dim GFP-expressing cells. Seminested single-cell RT–PCR showed that 71% of dim GFP-expressing cells expressed both th and dat mRNA. Loose-patch voltage-clamp recording from dim GFP-labeled cells in retinal whole mounts revealed that many of these dopaminergic neurons are spontaneously active in darkness.
Although this Tg(−12th:MmGFP) line is not a completely specific reporter for dopaminergic neurons, using relative GFP intensity we are able to enrich for the selection of retinal dopaminergic cells in vitro and in situ in molecular and electrophysiological experiments. This transgenic line provides a useful tool for studying retinal dopaminergic cells in the zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC2610293  PMID: 19112533
9.  Brain selective transgene expression in zebrafish using an NRSE derived motif 
Transgenic technologies enable the manipulation and observation of circuits controlling behavior by permitting expression of genetically encoded reporter genes in neurons. Frequently though, neuronal expression is accompanied by transgene expression in non-neuronal tissues, which may preclude key experimental manipulations, including assessment of the contribution of neurons to behavior by ablation. To better restrict transgene expression to the nervous system in zebrafish larvae, we have used DNA sequences derived from the neuron-restrictive silencing element (NRSE). We find that one such sequence, REx2, when used in conjunction with several basal promoters, robustly suppresses transgene expression in non-neuronal tissues. Both in transient transgenic experiments and in stable enhancer trap lines, suppression is achieved without compromising expression within the nervous system. Furthermore, in REx2 enhancer trap lines non-neuronal expression can be de-repressed by knocking down expression of the NRSE binding protein RE1-silencing transcription factor (Rest). In one line, we show that the resulting pattern of reporter gene expression coincides with that of the adjacent endogenous gene, hapln3. We demonstrate that three common basal promoters are susceptible to the effects of the REx2 element, suggesting that this method may be useful for confining expression from many other promoters to the nervous system. This technique enables neural specific targeting of reporter genes and thus will facilitate the use of transgenic methods to manipulate circuit function in freely behaving larvae.
PMCID: PMC3531662  PMID: 23293587
transgenesis; enhancer trap; ablation; NRSE; rest; zebrafish
10.  Identification of Neural Crest and Glial Enhancers at the Mouse Sox10 Locus through Transgenesis in Zebrafish 
PLoS Genetics  2008;4(9):e1000174.
Sox10 is a dynamically regulated transcription factor gene that is essential for the development of neural crest–derived and oligodendroglial populations. Developmental genes often require multiple regulatory sequences that integrate discrete and overlapping functions to coordinate their expression. To identify Sox10 cis-regulatory elements, we integrated multiple model systems, including cell-based screens and transposon-mediated transgensis in zebrafish, to scrutinize mammalian conserved, noncoding genomic segments at the mouse Sox10 locus. We demonstrate that eight of 11 Sox10 genomic elements direct reporter gene expression in transgenic zebrafish similar to patterns observed in transgenic mice, despite an absence of observable sequence conservation between mice and zebrafish. Multiple segments direct expression in overlapping populations of neural crest derivatives and glial cells, ranging from pan-Sox10 and pan-neural crest regulatory control to the modulation of expression in subpopulations of Sox10-expressing cells, including developing melanocytes and Schwann cells. Several sequences demonstrate overlapping spatial control, yet direct expression in incompletely overlapping developmental intervals. We were able to partially explain neural crest expression patterns by the presence of head to head SoxE family binding sites within two of the elements. Moreover, we were able to use this transcription factor binding site signature to identify the corresponding zebrafish enhancers in the absence of overall sequence homology. We demonstrate the utility of zebrafish transgenesis as a high-fidelity surrogate in the dissection of mammalian gene regulation, especially those with dynamically controlled developmental expression.
Author Summary
The neural crest is a population of embryonic migratory stem cells. They form atop the future spinal cord and migrate throughout developing embryos and form many different cells, including the epidermal pigment cells, bone cells in the head, and nerve cells of the peripheral nervous system. In this study, we studied the genome elements responsible for expression of SOX10, a dynamically expressed gene that is essential for neural crest development. We isolated candidate regulatory elements for SOX10 by identifying the small percentage of genomic DNA around the gene that did not vary as avian and mammalian genomes changed though evolution. We tested these fragments for their ability to regulate gene expression in zebrafish, a model system that is highly efficient for DNA-mediated expression studies and embryology. We found that even though the genome sequences were not similar to the SOX10 gene in fish, the genomic fragments were able to recapitulate the dynamic expression of SOX10 during development. Through computational analysis of the sequences, we identified a transcription factor binding site signature that identified the corresponding zebrafish SOX10 regulatory elements. This study describes a paradigm for dissecting regulation of essential genes that display complex expression patterns during development.
PMCID: PMC2518861  PMID: 18773071
11.  Enhancer trapping in zebrafish using the Sleeping Beauty transposon 
BMC Genomics  2004;5:62.
Among functional elements of a metazoan gene, enhancers are particularly difficult to find and annotate. Pioneering experiments in Drosophila have demonstrated the value of enhancer "trapping" using an invertebrate to address this functional genomics problem.
We modulated a Sleeping Beauty transposon-based transgenesis cassette to establish an enhancer trapping technique for use in a vertebrate model system, zebrafish Danio rerio. We established 9 lines of zebrafish with distinct tissue- or organ-specific GFP expression patterns from 90 founders that produced GFP-expressing progeny. We have molecularly characterized these lines and show that in each line, a specific GFP expression pattern is due to a single transposition event. Many of the insertions are into introns of zebrafish genes predicted in the current genome assembly. We have identified both previously characterized as well as novel expression patterns from this screen. For example, the ET7 line harbors a transposon insertion near the mkp3 locus and expresses GFP in the midbrain-hindbrain boundary, forebrain and the ventricle, matching a subset of the known FGF8-dependent mkp3 expression domain. The ET2 line, in contrast, expresses GFP specifically in caudal primary motoneurons due to an insertion into the poly(ADP-ribose) glycohydrolase (PARG) locus. This surprising expression pattern was confirmed using in situ hybridization techniques for the endogenous PARG mRNA, indicating the enhancer trap has replicated this unexpected and highly localized PARG expression with good fidelity. Finally, we show that it is possible to excise a Sleeping Beauty transposon from a genomic location in the zebrafish germline.
This genomics tool offers the opportunity for large-scale biological approaches combining both expression and genomic-level sequence analysis using as a template an entire vertebrate genome.
PMCID: PMC520745  PMID: 15347431
12.  Diverse mechanisms for assembly of branchiomeric nerves 
Developmental biology  2011;357(2):305-317.
The formation of branchiomeric nerves (cranial nerves V, VII, IX and X) from their sensory, motor and glial components is poorly understood. The current model for cranial nerve formation is based on the Vth nerve, in which sensory afferents are formed first and must enter the hindbrain in order for the motor efferents to exit. Using transgenic zebrafish lines to discriminate between motor neurons, sensory neurons and peripheral glia, we show that this model does not apply to the remaining three branchiomeric nerves. For these nerves, the motor efferents form prior to the sensory afferents, and their pathfinding show no dependence on sensory axons, as ablation of cranial sensory neurons by ngn1 knockdown had no effect. In contrast, the sensory limbs of the IXth and Xth nerves (but not the Vth or VIIth) were misrouted in gli1 mutants, which lack hindbrain bmn, suggesting that the motor efferents are crucial for appropriate sensory axon projection in some branchiomeric nerves. For all four nerves, peripheral glia were the intermediate component added and had a critical role in nerve integrity but not in axon guidance, as foxd3 null mutants lacking peripheral glia exhibited defasciculation of gVII, gIX, and gX axons. The bmn efferents were unaffected in these mutants. These data demonstrate that multiple mechanisms underlie formation of the four branchiomeric nerves. For the Vth, sensory axons initiate nerve formation, for the VIIth the sensory and motor limbs are independent, and for the IXth/Xth motor axons initiate formation. In all cases the glia are patterned by the initiating set of axons and are needed to maintain axon fasciculation. These results reveal that coordinated interactions between the three neural cell types in branchiomeric nerves differ according to their axial position.
PMCID: PMC3164235  PMID: 21777575
zebrafish; sensory neurons; branchiomotor neurons; peripheral glia
13.  New Tools for the Identification of Developmentally Regulated Enhancer Regions in Embryonic and Adult Zebrafish 
Zebrafish  2013;10(1):21-29.
We have conducted a screen to identify developmentally regulated enhancers that drive tissue-specific Gal4 expression in zebrafish. We obtained 63 stable transgenic lines with expression patterns in embryonic or adult zebrafish. The use of a newly identified minimal promoter from the medaka edar locus resulted in a relatively unbiased set of expression patterns representing many tissue types derived from all germ layers. Subsequent detailed characterization of selected lines showed strong and reproducible Gal4-driven GFP expression in diverse tissues, including neurons from the central and peripheral nervous systems, pigment cells, erythrocytes, and peridermal cells. By screening adults for GFP expression, we also isolated lines expressed in tissues of the adult zebrafish, including scales, fin rays, and joints. The new and efficient minimal promoter and large number of transactivating driver-lines we identified will provide the zebrafish community with a useful resource for further enhancer trap screening, as well as precise investigation of tissue-specific processes in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3670562  PMID: 23461416
14.  Intermediate filaments of zebrafish retinal and optic nerve astrocytes and Müller glia: differential distribution of cytokeratin and GFAP 
BMC Research Notes  2010;3:50.
Optic nerve regeneration (ONR) following injury is a model for central nervous system regeneration. In zebrafish, ONR is rapid - neurites cross the lesion and enter the optic tectum within 7 days; in mammals regeneration does not take place unless astrocytic reactivity is suppressed. Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) is used as a marker for retinal and optic nerve astrocytes in both fish and mammals, even though it has long been known that astrocytes of optic nerves in many fish, including zebrafish, express cytokeratins and not GFAP. We used immunofluorescence to localize GFAP and cytokeratin in wild-type zebrafish and transgenic zebrafish expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) under control of a GFAP promoter to determine the pattern of expression of intermediate filaments in retina and optic nerve.
GFAP labeling and GFAP gene expression as indicated by GFP fluorescence was found only in the Müller glial cells of the retina. Within Müller cells, GFP fluorescence filled the entire cell while GFAP labelling was more restricted in distribution. No GFAP expression was observed in optic nerves. Cytokeratin labeling of astrocytes was observed throughout the optic nerve and less intensely in cells in the retinal inner plexiform layer. The retinal inner limiting membrane was strongly labeled by anti-cytokeratin.
Studies of astrocyte function during ONR in zebrafish cannot solely rely on GFAP as an astrocyte marker or indicator of reactivity. Future studies of ONR in zebrafish should include evaluation of changes in cytokeratin expression and localization in the optic nerve.
PMCID: PMC2845598  PMID: 20193075
15.  Targeting Olfactory Bulb Neurons Using Combined In Vivo Electroporation and Gal4-Based Enhancer Trap Zebrafish Lines 
In vivo electroporation is a powerful method for delivering DNA expression plasmids, RNAi reagents, and morpholino anti-sense oligonucleotides to specific regions of developing embryos, including those of C. elegans, chick, Xenopus, zebrafish, and mouse 1. In zebrafish, in vivo electroporation has been shown to have excellent spatial and temporal resolution for the delivery of these reagents 2-7. The temporal resolution of this method is important because it allows for incorporation of these reagents at specific stages in development. Furthermore, because expression from electroporated vectors occurs within 6 hours 7, this method is more timely than transgenic approaches. While the spatial resolution can be extremely precise when targeting a single cell 2, 6, it is often preferable to incorporate reagents into a specific cell population within a tissue or structure. When targeting multiple cells, in vivo electroporation is efficient for delivery to a specific region of the embryo; however, particularly within the developing nervous system, it is difficult to target specific cell types solely through spatially discrete electroporation. Alternatively, enhancer trap transgenic lines offer excellent cell type-specific expression of transgenes 8. Here we describe an approach that combines transgenic Gal4-based enhancer trap lines 8 with spatially discrete in vivo electroporation 7, 9 to specifically target developing neurons of the zebrafish olfactory bulb. The Et(zic4:Gal4TA4,UAS:mCherry)hzm5 (formerly GA80_9) enhancer trap line previously described 8, displays targeted transgenic expression of mCherry mediated by a zebrafish optimized Gal4 (KalTA4) transcriptional activator in multiple regions of the developing brain including hindbrain, cerebellum, forebrain, and the olfactory bulb. To target GFP expression specifically to the olfactory bulb, a plasmid with the coding sequence of GFP under control of multiple Gal4 binding sites (UAS) was electroporated into the anterior end of the forebrain at 24-28 hours post-fertilization (hpf). Although this method incorporates plasmid DNA into multiple regions of the forebrain, GFP expression is only induced in cells transgenically expressing the KalTA4 transcription factor. Thus, by using the GA080_9 transgenic line, this approach led to GFP expression exclusively in the developing olfactory bulb. GFP expressing cells targeted through this approach showed typical axonal projections, as previously described for mitral cells of the olfactory bulb 10. This method could also be used for targeted delivery of other reagents including short-hairpin RNA interference expression plasmids, which would provide a method for spatially and temporally discrete loss-of-function analysis.
PMCID: PMC3217634  PMID: 21860381
16.  WNK1/HSN2 Mutation in Human Peripheral Neuropathy Deregulates KCC2 Expression and Posterior Lateral Line Development in Zebrafish (Danio rerio) 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(1):e1003124.
Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 2 (HSNAII) is a rare pathology characterized by an early onset of severe sensory loss (all modalities) in the distal limbs. It is due to autosomal recessive mutations confined to exon “HSN2” of the WNK1 (with-no-lysine protein kinase 1) serine-threonine kinase. While this kinase is well studied in the kidneys, little is known about its role in the nervous system. We hypothesized that the truncating mutations present in the neural-specific HSN2 exon lead to a loss-of-function of the WNK1 kinase, impairing development of the peripheral sensory system. To investigate the mechanisms by which the loss of WNK1/HSN2 isoform function causes HSANII, we used the embryonic zebrafish model and observed strong expression of WNK1/HSN2 in neuromasts of the peripheral lateral line (PLL) system by immunohistochemistry. Knocking down wnk1/hsn2 in embryos using antisense morpholino oligonucleotides led to improper PLL development. We then investigated the reported interaction between the WNK1 kinase and neuronal potassium chloride cotransporter KCC2, as this transporter is a target of WNK1 phosphorylation. In situ hybridization revealed kcc2 expression in mature neuromasts of the PLL and semi-quantitative RT–PCR of wnk1/hsn2 knockdown embryos showed an increased expression of kcc2 mRNA. Furthermore, overexpression of human KCC2 mRNA in embryos replicated the wnk1/hsn2 knockdown phenotype. We validated these results by obtaining double knockdown embryos, both for wnk1/hsn2 and kcc2, which alleviated the PLL defects. Interestingly, overexpression of inactive mutant KCC2-C568A, which does not extrude ions, allowed a phenocopy of the PLL defects. These results suggest a pathway in which WNK1/HSN2 interacts with KCC2, producing a novel regulation of its transcription independent of KCC2's activation, where a loss-of-function mutation in WNK1 induces an overexpression of KCC2 and hinders proper peripheral sensory nerve development, a hallmark of HSANII.
Author Summary
Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathy type 2 (HSANII) is a rare human pathology characterized by the early loss of sensory perception. It arises from expression of autosomal recessive mutations confined to an alternatively spliced exon of the WNK1 (with-no-lysine protein kinase 1) serine-threonine kinase, which confers nervous system specificity. In zebrafish embryos, wnk1/hsn2 is expressed in the neuromasts of the posterior lateral line (PLL), a peripheral mechanosensory system of aquatic animals. Defects in the development of this system, both in the number of individual neuromasts and of the hair cells they possess, were observed upon knockdown of the wnk1/hsn2 isoform. We investigated interactions between the WNK1 kinase and the neuronal potassium chloride cotransporter 2 (KCC2) in the context of HSANII, as KCC2 has been implicated in regulating neurogenesis. WNK1 is known to phosphorylate KCC2, regulating its activity and possibly its expression levels. We found that kcc2 is expressed in mature neuromasts and observed an increased level of kcc2 RNA in wnk1/hsn2 knockdown embryos. We suggest that the loss-of-function mutations in WNK1/HSN2 linked with HSANII lead to an imbalance in the levels of KCC2, deregulating its levels of transcription and hindering proper peripheral nervous system development.
PMCID: PMC3536653  PMID: 23300475
17.  Efficient disruption of Zebrafish genes using a Gal4-containing gene trap 
BMC Genomics  2013;14:619.
External development and optical transparency of embryos make zebrafish exceptionally suitable for in vivo insertional mutagenesis using fluorescent proteins to visualize expression patterns of mutated genes. Recently developed Gene Breaking Transposon (GBT) vectors greatly improve the fidelity and mutagenicity of transposon-based gene trap vectors.
We constructed and tested a bipartite GBT vector with Gal4-VP16 as the primary gene trap reporter. Our vector also contains a UAS:eGFP cassette for direct detection of gene trap events by fluorescence. To confirm gene trap events, we generated a UAS:mRFP tester line. We screened 270 potential founders and established 41 gene trap lines. Three of our gene trap alleles display homozygous lethal phenotypes ranging from embryonic to late larval: nsf tpl6, atp1a3atpl10 and flrtpl19. Our gene trap cassette is flanked by direct loxP sites, which enabled us to successfully revert nsf tpl6, atp1a3atpl10 and flrtpl19 gene trap alleles by injection of Cre mRNA. The UAS:eGFP cassette is flanked by direct FRT sites. It can be readily removed by injection of Flp mRNA for use of our gene trap alleles with other tissue-specific GFP-marked lines. The Gal4-VP16 component of our vector provides two important advantages over other GBT vectors. The first is increased sensitivity, which enabled us to detect previously unnoticed expression of nsf in the pancreas. The second advantage is that all our gene trap lines, including integrations into non-essential genes, can be used as highly specific Gal4 drivers for expression of other transgenes under the control of Gal4 UAS.
The Gal4-containing bipartite Gene Breaking Transposon vector presented here retains high specificity for integrations into genes, high mutagenicity and revertibility by Cre. These features, together with utility as highly specific Gal4 drivers, make gene trap mutants presented here especially useful to the research community.
PMCID: PMC3848861  PMID: 24034702
Zebrafish; Insertional mutagenesis; Gene trap; Gal4; Tol2; nsfa; Fleer; atp1a3a; bbs7
18.  Generation and characterization of transgenic zebrafish lines using different ubiquitous promoters 
Transgenic research  2007;17(2):265-279.
Two commonly used promoters to ubiquitously express transgenes in zebrafish are the Xenopus laevis elongation factor 1 α promoter (XlEef1a1) and the zebrafish histone variant H2A.F/Z (h2afv) promoter. Recently, transgenes utilizing these promoters were shown to be silenced in certain adult tissues, particularly the central nervous system. To overcome this limitation, we cloned the promoters of four zebrafish genes that likely are transcribed ubiquitously throughout development and into the adult. These four genes are the TATA box binding protein gene, the taube nuss-like gene, the eukaryotic elongation factor 1-gamma gene, and the beta-actin-1 gene. We PCR amplified approximately 2.5 kb upstream of the putative translational start site of each gene and cloned each into a Tol2 expression vector that contains the EGFP reporter transgene. We used these four Tol2 vectors to independently generate stable transgenic fish lines for analysis of transgene expression during development and in the adult. We demonstrated that all four promoters drive a very broad pattern of EGFP expression throughout development and the adult. Using the retina as a well-characterized component of the CNS, all four promoters appeared to drive EGFP expression in all neuronal and non-neuronal cells of the adult retina. In contrast, the h2afv promoter failed to express EGFP in the adult retina. When we examined EGFP expression in the various cells of the blood cell lineage, we observed that all four promoters exhibited a more heterogenous expression pattern than either the XlEef1a1 or h2afv promoters. While these four ubiquitous promoters did not express EGFP in all the adult blood cells, they did express EGFP throughout the CNS and in broader expression patterns in the adult than either the XlEef1a1 or h2afv promoters. For these reasons, these four promoters will be valuable tools for expressing transgenes in adult zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC3660017  PMID: 17968670
Zebrafish; Central nervous system; Ubiquitous; Promoter; Tol2; Adult expression pattern
19.  Multiple upstream modules regulate zebrafish myf5 expression 
Myf5 is one member of the basic helix-loop-helix family of transcription factors, and it functions as a myogenic factor that is important for the specification and differentiation of muscle cells. The expression of myf5 is somite- and stage-dependent during embryogenesis through a delicate regulation. However, this complex regulatory mechanism of myf5 is not clearly understood.
We isolated a 156-kb bacterial artificial chromosome clone that includes an upstream 80-kb region and a downstream 70-kb region of zebrafish myf5 and generated a transgenic line carrying this 156-kb segment fused to a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter gene. We find strong GFP expression in the most rostral somite and in the presomitic mesoderm during segmentation stages, similar to endogenous myf5 expression. Later, the GFP signals persist in caudal somites near the tail bud but are down-regulated in the older, rostral somites. During the pharyngula period, we detect GFP signals in pectoral fin buds, dorsal rostral myotomes, hypaxial myotomes, and inferior oblique and superior oblique muscles, a pattern that also corresponds well with endogenous myf5 transcripts. To characterize the specific upstream cis-elements that regulate this complex and dynamic expression pattern, we also generated several transgenic lines that harbor various lengths within the upstream 80-kb segment. We find that (1) the -80 kb/-9977 segment contains a fin and cranial muscle element and a notochord repressor; (2) the -9977/-6213 segment contains a strong repressive element that does not include the notochord-specific repressor; (3) the -6212/-2938 segment contains tissue-specific elements for bone and spinal cord; (4) the -2937/-291 segment contains an eye enhancer, and the -2937/-2457 segment is required for notochord and myocyte expression; and (5) the -290/-1 segment is responsible for basal transcription in somites and the presomitic mesoderm.
We suggest that the cell lineage-specific expression of myf5 is delicately orchestrated by multiple modules within the distal upstream region. This study provides an insight to understand the molecular control of myf5 and myogenesis in the zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC1769357  PMID: 17199897
20.  Cranial sensory ganglia neurons require intrinsic N-cadherin function for guidance of afferent fibers to their final targets 
Neuroscience  2009;159(3):1175-1184.
Cell adhesion molecules, such as N-cadherin (cdh2), are essential for normal neuronal development, and as such have been implicated in an array of processes including neuronal differentiation and migration, and axon growth and fasciculation. Cdh2 is expressed in neurons of the peripheral nervous system during development, but its role in these cells during this time is poorly understood. Using the transgenic zebrafish line, tg(p2xr3.2:eGFPsl1), we have examined the involvement of cdh2 in the formation of sensory circuits by the peripheral nervous system. The tg(p2xr3.2:eGFPsl1) fish allows visualization of neurons comprising gV, gVII, gIX and gX and their axons throughout development. Reduction of cdh2 in this line was achieved by either crosses to the cdh2-mutant strain, glass onion (glo) or injection of a cdh2 morpholino (MO) into single-cell embryos. Here we show that cdh2 function is required to alter the directional vectors of growing axons upon reaching intermediate targets. The central axons enter the hindbrain appropriately but fail to turn caudally towards their final targets. Similarly, the peripheral axons extend ventrally, but fail to turn and project along a rostral/caudal axis. Furthermore, by expressing dominant negative cdh2 constructs selectively within cranial sensory ganglia (CSG) neurons, we found that cdh2 function is necessary within the axons to elicit these stereotypic turns, thus demonstrating that cdh2 acts cell autonomously. Together, our in vivo data reveal a novel role for cdh2 in the establishment of circuits by peripheral sensory neurons.
PMCID: PMC2667798  PMID: 19356698
cadherin; axon; sensory; peripheral; ganglion; zebrafish
21.  Characterization of sensory neuron subpopulations selectively expressing green fluorescent protein in phosphodiesterase 1C BAC transgenic mice 
Molecular Pain  2006;2:17.
The complex neuronal circuitry of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord is as yet poorly understood. However, defining the circuits underlying the transmission of information from primary afferents to higher levels is critical to our understanding of sensory processing. In this study, we have examined phosphodiesterase 1C (Pde1c) BAC transgenic mice in which a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter gene reflects Pde1c expression in sensory neuron subpopulations in the dorsal root ganglia and spinal cord.
Using double labeling immunofluorescence, we demonstrate GFP expression in specific subpopulations of primary sensory neurons and a distinct neuronal expression pattern within the spinal cord dorsal horn. In the dorsal root ganglia, their distribution is restricted to those subpopulations of primary sensory neurons that give rise to unmyelinated C fibers (neurofilament 200 negative). A small proportion of both non-peptidergic (IB4-binding) and peptidergic (CGRP immunoreactive) subclasses expressed GFP. However, GFP expression was more common in the non-peptidergic than the peptidergic subclass. GFP was also expressed in a subpopulation of the primary sensory neurons immunoreactive for the vanilloid receptor TRPV1 and the ATP-gated ion channel P2X3. In the spinal cord dorsal horn, GFP positive neurons were largely restricted to lamina I and to a lesser extent lamina II, but surprisingly did not coexpress markers for key neuronal populations present in the superficial dorsal horn.
The expression of GFP in subclasses of nociceptors and also in dorsal horn regions densely innervated by nociceptors suggests that Pde1c marks a unique subpopulation of nociceptive sensory neurons.
PMCID: PMC1479315  PMID: 16681857
22.  Sciatic Nerve Transection Triggers Release and Intercellular Transfer of a Genetically Expressed Macromolecular Tracer in Dorsal Root Ganglia 
The Journal of comparative neurology  2011;519(13):10.1002/cne.22645.
We recently developed a genetic transneuronal tracing approach that allows for the study of circuits that are altered by nerve injury. We generated transgenic (ZW-X) mice in which expression of a transneuronal tracer, wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), is induced in primary sensory neurons, but only after transection of their peripheral axon. By following the transneuronal transport of the tracer into the central nervous system (CNS) we can label the circuits that are engaged by the WGA-expressing damaged neurons. Here we used the ZW-X mouse line to analyze dorsal root ganglia (DRG) for intraganglionic connections between injured sensory neurons and their neighboring “intact” neurons. Because neuropeptide Y (NPY) expression is strongly induced in DRG neurons after peripheral axotomy, we crossed the ZW-X mouse line with a mouse that expresses Cre recombinase under the influence of the NPY promoter. As expected, sciatic nerve transection triggered WGA expression in NPY-positive DRG neurons, most of which are of large diameter. As expected, double labeling for ATF-3, a marker of cell bodies with damaged axons, showed that the tracer predominated in injured (i.e., axotomized) neurons. However, we also found the WGA tracer in DRG cell bodies of uninjured sensory neurons. Importantly, in the absence of nerve injury there was no intraganglionic transfer of WGA. Our results demonstrate that intraganglionic, cell-to-cell communication, via transfer of large molecules, occurs between the cell bodies of injured and neighboring noninjured primary afferent neurons.
PMCID: PMC3864657  PMID: 21484801
wheat germ agglutinin; pain; dorsal root ganglion; axotomy; tracing; neuron-glia communication
23.  Silencer-delimited transgenesis: NRSE/RE1 sequences promote neural-specific transgene expression in a NRSF/REST-dependent manner 
BMC Biology  2012;10:93.
We have investigated a simple strategy for enhancing transgene expression specificity by leveraging genetic silencer elements. The approach serves to restrict transgene expression to a tissue of interest - the nervous system in the example provided here - thereby promoting specific/exclusive targeting of discrete cellular subtypes. Recent innovations are bringing us closer to understanding how the brain is organized, how neural circuits function, and how neurons can be regenerated. Fluorescent proteins enable mapping of the 'connectome', optogenetic tools allow excitable cells to be short-circuited or hyperactivated, and targeted ablation of neuronal subtypes facilitates investigations of circuit function and neuronal regeneration. Optimally, such toolsets need to be expressed solely within the cell types of interest as off-site expression makes establishing causal relationships difficult. To address this, we have exploited a gene 'silencing' system that promotes neuronal specificity by repressing expression in non-neural tissues. This methodology solves non-specific background issues that plague large-scale enhancer trap efforts and may provide a means of leveraging promoters/enhancers that otherwise express too broadly to be of value for in vivo manipulations.
We show that a conserved neuron-restrictive silencer element (NRSE) can function to restrict transgene expression to the nervous system. The neuron-restrictive silencing factor/repressor element 1 silencing transcription factor (NRSF/REST) transcriptional repressor binds NRSE/repressor element 1 (RE1) sites and silences gene expression in non-neuronal cells. Inserting NRSE sites into transgenes strongly biased expression to neural tissues. NRSE sequences were effective in restricting expression of bipartite Gal4-based 'driver' transgenes within the context of an enhancer trap and when associated with a defined promoter and enhancer. However, NRSE sequences did not serve to restrict expression of an upstream activating sequence (UAS)-based reporter/effector transgene when associated solely with the UAS element. Morpholino knockdown assays showed that NRSF/REST expression is required for NRSE-based transgene silencing.
Our findings demonstrate that the addition of NRSE sequences to transgenes can provide useful new tools for functional studies of the nervous system. However, the general approach may be more broadly applicable; tissue-specific silencer elements are operable in tissues other than the nervous system, suggesting this approach can be similarly applied to other paradigms. Thus, creating synthetic associations between endogenous regulatory elements and tissue-specific silencers may facilitate targeting of cellular subtypes for which defined promoters/enhancers are lacking.
PMCID: PMC3529185  PMID: 23198762
zebrafish; transgenesis; enhancer trap; NRSE/RE1; NRSF/REST; Gal4/UAS; neuron
24.  Biodistribution of adeno-associated virus serotype 9 (AAV9) vector after intrathecal and intravenous delivery in mouse 
Adeno-associated virus serotype 9 (AAV9)-mediated gene transfer has been reported in central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral tissues. The current study compared the pattern of expression of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) across the mouse CNS and selected peripheral tissues after intrathecal (i.t.) or intravenous (i.v.) delivery of equivalent doses of single-stranded AAV9 vector. After i.t. delivery, GFP immunoreactivity (-ir) was observed in spinal neurons, primary afferent fibers and corresponding primary sensory neurons at all spinal levels. Robust transduction was seen in small and large dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons as well as trigeminal and vagal primary afferent neurons. Transduction efficiency in sensory ganglia was substantially lower in i.v. treated mice. In brain, i.v. delivery yielded GFP-immunoreactivity (-ir) primarily in spinal trigeminal tract, pituitary, and scattered isolated neurons and astrocytes. In contrast, after i.t. delivery, GFP-ir was widespread throughout CNS, with greater intensity and more abundant neuropil-like staining at 6 weeks compared to 3 weeks. Brain regions with prominent GFP-ir included cranial nerve nuclei, ventral pons, cerebellar cortex, hippocampus, pituitary, choroid plexus, and selected nuclei of midbrain, thalamus and hypothalamus. In cortex, GFP-ir was associated with blood vessels, and was seen in both neurons and astrocytes. In the periphery, GFP-ir in colon and ileum was present in the enteric nervous system in both i.v. and i.t. treated mice. Liver and adrenal cortex, but not adrenal medulla, also showed abundant GFP-ir after both routes of delivery. In summary, i.t. delivery yielded higher transduction efficiency in sensory neurons and the CNS. The observation of comparable gene transfer to peripheral tissues using the two routes indicates that a component of i.t. delivered vector is redistributed from the subarachnoid space to the systemic circulation.
PMCID: PMC4051274  PMID: 24959122
adeno-associated; AAV9; intrathecal; intravenous; CNS; DRG; trigeminal
25.  Characterization of transgenic zebrafish lines that express GFP in the retina, pineal gland, olfactory bulb, hatching gland, and optic tectum 
Gene expression patterns : GEP  2013;13(0):150-159.
Transgenic animals are powerful tools to study gene function in vivo. Here we characterize several transgenic zebrafish lines that express green fluorescent protein (GFP) under the control of the LCRRH2-RH2-1 or LCRRH2-RH2-2 green opsin regulatory elements. Using confocal immunomicroscopy, stereo-fluorescence microscopy, and Western blotting, we show that the Tg(LCRRH2-RH2-1:GFP)pt112 and Tg(LCRRH2-RH2-2:GFP)pt115 transgenic zebrafish lines express GFP in the pineal gland and certain types of photoreceptors. In addition, some of these lines also express GFP in the hatching gland, optic tectum, or olfactory bulb. Some of the expression patterns differ significantly from previously published similar transgenic fish lines, making them useful tools for studying the development of the corresponding tissues and organs. In addition, the variations of GFP expression among different lines corroborate the notion that transgenic expression is often subjected to position effect, thus emphasizing the need for careful verification of expression patterns when transgenic animal models are utilized for research.
PMCID: PMC3675662  PMID: 23499733
Crumbs2b; olfactory system; transgenic zebrafish; green opsin promoter; photoreceptor; retina

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