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1.  Hepatic stellate cells in liver development, regeneration, and cancer 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2013;123(5):1902-1910.
Hepatic stellate cells are liver-specific mesenchymal cells that play vital roles in liver physiology and fibrogenesis. They are located in the space of Disse and maintain close interactions with sinusoidal endothelial cells and hepatic epithelial cells. It is becoming increasingly clear that hepatic stellate cells have a profound impact on the differentiation, proliferation, and morphogenesis of other hepatic cell types during liver development and regeneration. In this Review, we summarize and evaluate the recent advances in our understanding of the formation and characteristics of hepatic stellate cells, as well as their function in liver development, regeneration, and cancer. We also discuss how improved knowledge of these processes offers new perspectives for the treatment of patients with liver diseases.
PMCID: PMC3635734  PMID: 23635788
2.  The bHLH Transcription Factor Hand2 Marks Hepatic Stellate Cells in Zebrafish: Analysis of Stellate Cell Entry into the Developing Liver 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2012;56(5):1958-1970.
Hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) are liver-specific mesenchymal cells that play vital roles in liver development and injury. Our knowledge of HSC biology is limited by the paucity of in vivo data. HSCs and sinusoidal endothelial cells (SECs) reside in close proximity and interactions between these two cell types are potentially critical for their development and function. Here we introduce a transgenic zebrafish line, Tg(hand2:EGFP), that labels HSCs. We find that zebrafish HSCs share many similarities with their mammalian counterparts, including morphology, location, lipid storage, gene expression profile, and increased proliferation and matrix production in response to an acute hepatic insult. Using the Tg(hand2:EGFP) line, we conducted time course analyses during development to reveal that HSCs invade the liver after SECs do. However, HSCs still enter the liver in mutants that lack most endothelial cells including SECs, indicating that SECs are not required for HSC differentiation or their entry into the liver. In the absence of SECs, HSCs become abnormally associated with hepatic biliary cells, suggesting that SECs influence HSC localization during liver development. We analyzed factors that regulate HSC development and show that inhibition of vascular endothelial growth factor signaling significantly reduces the number of HSCs that enter the liver. We also performed a pilot chemical screen and identified two compounds that affect HSC numbers during development.
Our work provides the first comprehensive description of HSC development in zebrafish and reveals the requirement of SECs in HSC localization. The Tg(hand2:EGFP) line represents a unique tool for in vivo analysis and molecular dissection of HSC behavior.
PMCID: PMC3407311  PMID: 22488653
sinusoidal endothelial cells; liver development; cloche; VEGF; biliary cells; acute alcohol exposure
3.  Whole-organism screening for gluconeogenesis identifies activators of fasting metabolism 
Nature chemical biology  2012;9(2):97-104.
Improving the control of energy homeostasis can lower cardiovascular risk in metabolically compromised individuals. To identify new regulators of whole-body energy control, we conducted a high-throughput screen in transgenic reporter zebrafish for small molecules that modulate the expression of the fasting-inducible gluconeogenic gene pck1. We show that this in vivo strategy identified several drugs that impact gluconeogenesis in humans, as well as metabolically uncharacterized compounds. Most notably, we find that the Translocator Protein (TSPO) ligands PK 11195 and Ro5-4864 are glucose lowering agents despite a strong inductive effect on pck1 expression. We show that these drugs are activators of a fasting-like energy state, and importantly that they protect high-fat diet induced obese mice from hepatosteatosis and glucose intolerance, two pathological manifestations of metabolic dysregulation. Thus, using a whole-organism screening strategy, this study has identified new small molecule activators of fasting metabolism.
PMCID: PMC3552031  PMID: 23201900
4.  Adenosine signaling promotes regeneration of pancreatic β-cells in vivo 
Cell Metabolism  2012;15(6):885-894.
Diabetes can be controlled with insulin injections, but a curative approach that restores the number of insulin-producing β-cells is still needed. Using a zebrafish model of diabetes, we screened ~7000 small molecules to identify enhancers of β-cell regeneration. The compounds we identified converge on the adenosine signaling pathway and include exogenous agonists and compounds that inhibit degradation of endogenously produced adenosine. The most potent enhancer of β-cell regeneration was the adenosine agonist 5′-N-Ethylcarboxamidoadenosine (NECA), which acting through the adenosine receptor A2aa increased β-cell proliferation and accelerated restoration of normoglycemia in zebrafish. Despite markedly stimulating β-cell proliferation during regeneration, NECA had only a modest effect during development. The proliferative and glucose-lowering effect of NECA was confirmed in diabetic mice, suggesting an evolutionarily conserved role for adenosine in β-cell regeneration. With this whole-organism screen, we identified components of the adenosine pathway that could be therapeutically targeted for the treatment of diabetes.
PMCID: PMC3372708  PMID: 22608007
5.  Nodal signaling regulates endodermal cell motility and actin dynamics via Rac1 and Prex1 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2012;198(5):941-952.
Nodal, acting through Prex1 and Rac1, promotes dynamic actin and random motility in endodermal cells during early gastrulation.
Embryo morphogenesis is driven by dynamic cell behaviors, including migration, that are coordinated with fate specification and differentiation, but how such coordination is achieved remains poorly understood. During zebrafish gastrulation, endodermal cells sequentially exhibit first random, nonpersistent migration followed by oriented, persistent migration and finally collective migration. Using a novel transgenic line that labels the endodermal actin cytoskeleton, we found that these stage-dependent changes in migratory behavior correlated with changes in actin dynamics. The dynamic actin and random motility exhibited during early gastrulation were dependent on both Nodal and Rac1 signaling. We further identified the Rac-specific guanine nucleotide exchange factor Prex1 as a Nodal target and showed that it mediated Nodal-dependent random motility. Reducing Rac1 activity in endodermal cells caused them to bypass the random migration phase and aberrantly contribute to mesodermal tissues. Together, our results reveal a novel role for Nodal signaling in regulating actin dynamics and migration behavior, which are crucial for endodermal morphogenesis and cell fate decisions.
PMCID: PMC3432772  PMID: 22945937
6.  Loss of Dnmt1 catalytic activity reveals multiple roles for DNA methylation during pancreas development and regeneration 
Developmental biology  2009;334(1):213-223.
Developmental mechanisms regulating gene expression and the stable acquisition of cell fate direct cytodifferentiation during organogenesis. Moreover, it is likely that such mechanisms could be exploited to repair or regenerate damaged organs. DNA methyltransferases (Dnmts) are enzymes critical for epigenetic regulation, and are used in concert with histone methylation and acetylation to regulate gene expression and maintain genomic integrity and chromosome structure. We carried out two forward genetic screens for regulators of endodermal organ development. In the first, we screened for altered morphology of developing digestive organs, while in the second we screed for the lack of terminally differentiated cell types in the pancreas and liver. From these screens, we identified two mutant alleles of zebrafish dnmt1. Both lesions are predicted to eliminate dnmt1 function; one is a missense mutation in the catalytic domain and the other is a nonsense mutation that eliminates the catalytic domain. In zebrafish dnmt1 mutants, the pancreas and liver form normally, but begin to degenerate after 84 hours post fertilization (hpf). Acinar cells are nearly abolished through apoptosis by 100 hpf, though neither DNA replication, nor entry into mitosis are halted in the absence of detectable Dnmt1. However, endocrine cells and ducts are largely spared. Surprisingly, dnmt1 mutants and dnmt1 morpholino-injected larvae show increased capacity for pancreatic beta cell regeneration in an inducible model of pancreatic beta cell ablation. Thus, our data suggest that Dnmt1 is dispensable for pancreatic duct or endocrine cell formation, but not for acinar cell survival. In addition, Dnmt1 may influence the differentiation of pancreatic beta cell progenitors or the reprogramming of cells toward the pancreatic beta cell fate.
PMCID: PMC2759669  PMID: 19631206
methylation; Dnmt1; pancreas; epigenetics; regeneration; zebrafish; ENU mutagenesis; mutant; beta cells; liver
7.  Noncanonical Activity of Seryl-Transfer RNA Synthetase and Vascular Development 
Trends in cardiovascular medicine  2009;19(6):179-182.
Seryl-transfer RNA synthetase (Sars) is one of the 20 aminoacyl-transfer RNA synthetases that are enzymes essential for protein synthesis; however, the developmental function of Sars has not been elucidated. In zebrafish, impairment of zygotic Sars function leads to a significant dilatation of the aortic arch vessels and aberrant branching of cranial and intersegmental vessels. This abnormal vascular branching in sars mutants can be suppressed by a form of Sars that lacks canonical function, indicating that a noncanonical activity of Sars regulates vascular development. Inhibition or knockdown of vascular endothelial growth factor (Vegf) signaling, which plays pivotal roles in the establishment of the vascular network, suppresses the abnormal vascular branching observed in sars mutants. Here, we discuss the possible functional relationship between Sars function and Vegf signaling.
PMCID: PMC2846333  PMID: 20211432
8.  Noncanonical Activity of Seryl-tRNA synthetase and Vascular Development 
Circulation research  2009;104(11):1253.
Seryl-tRNA synthetase (Sars) is one of the 20 aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases which are enzymes essential for protein synthesis; however, the developmental function of Sars has not been elucidated. In zebrafish, impairment of zygotic Sars function leads to a significant dilatation of the aortic arch vessels and aberrant branching of cranial and intersegmental vessels. This abnormal vascular branching in sars mutants can be suppressed by a form of Sars that lacks canonical function, indicating that a noncanonical activity of Sars regulates vascular development. Inhibition or knockdown of Vascular endothelial growth factor (Vegf) signaling, which plays pivotal roles in the establishment of the vascular network, suppresses the abnormal vascular branching observed in sars mutants. Here, we discuss the possible functional relationship between Sars function and Vegf signaling.
PMCID: PMC2821192  PMID: 19423848
9.  Interferon gamma Signaling Positively Regulates Hematopoietic Stem Cell Emergence 
Developmental cell  2014;31(5):640-653.
Vertebrate hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) emerge in the aorta-gonad-mesonephros (AGM) region from “hemogenic” endothelium. Here we show that the pro-inflammatory cytokine Ifn-γ and its receptor Crfb17 positively regulate HSC development in zebrafish. This regulation does not appear to modulate the proliferation or survival of HSCs or endothelial cells, but rather the endothelial to HSC transition. Notch signaling and blood flow positively regulate the expression of ifng and crfb17 in the AGM. Notably, Ifn-γ overexpression partially rescues the HSC loss observed in the absence of blood flow or Notch signaling. Importantly, Ifn-γ signaling acts cell-autonomously to control the endothelial to HSC transition. Ifn-γ activates Stat3, an atypical transducer of Ifn-γ signaling, in the AGM, and Stat3 inhibition decreases HSC formation. Together, our findings uncover a developmental role for an inflammatory cytokine and place its action downstream of Notch signaling and blood flow to control Stat3 activation and HSC emergence.
PMCID: PMC4371141  PMID: 25490269
10.  Actin Binding GFP Allows 4D In Vivo Imaging of Myofilament Dynamics in the Zebrafish Heart and the Identification of Erbb2 Signaling as a Remodeling Factor of Myofibril Architecture 
Circulation research  2014;115(10):845-856.
Dilated cardiomyopathy is a leading cause of congestive heart failure and a debilitating complication of anti-neoplastic therapies. Despite disparate causes for dilated cardiomyopathy, maladaptive cardiac remodeling and decreased systolic function are common clinical consequences, begging an investigation of in vivo contractile dynamics in development and disease, one that has been impossible to date.
Imaging in vivo myocardial contractile filament dynamics and assess potential causes of dilated cardiomyopathy in anti-neoplastic therapies targeting Erbb2.
Methods and Results
We generated a transgenic zebrafish line expressing an actin-binding GFP in cardiomyocytes, allowing in vivo imaging of myofilaments. Analysis of this line revealed architectural differences in myofibrils of the distinct cardiomyocyte subtypes. We used this model to investigate the effects of Erbb2 signaling on myofibrillar organization, since drugs targeting ERBB2 (HER2/NEU) signaling, a mainstay of breast cancer chemotherapy, cause dilated cardiomyopathy in many patients. High-resolution in vivo imaging revealed that Erbb2 signaling regulates a switch between a dense apical network of filamentous myofibrils and the assembly of basally localized myofibrils in ventricular cardiomyocytes.
Using this novel line, we compiled a reference for myofibrillar microarchitecture among myocardial subtypes in vivo and at different developmental stages, establishing this model as a tool to analyze in vivo cardiomyocyte contractility and remodeling for a broad range of cardiovascular questions. Further, we applied this model to study Erbb2 signaling in cardiomyopathy. We show a direct link between Erbb2 activity and remodeling of myofibrils, revealing an unexpected mechanism with potentially important implications for prevention and treatment of cardiomyopathy.
PMCID: PMC4371144  PMID: 25228389
Imaging; cardiomyopathy; contractility; myofibrils; Erbb2; development; cardiac remodeling; myocardial contraction; myofilament protein; sarcomere
11.  Intracardiac flow dynamics regulate atrioventricular valve morphogenesis 
Cardiovascular Research  2014;104(1):49-60.
Valvular heart disease is responsible for considerable morbidity and mortality. Cardiac valves develop as the heart contracts, and they function throughout the lifetime of the organism to prevent retrograde blood flow. Their precise morphogenesis is crucial for cardiac function. Zebrafish is an ideal model to investigate cardiac valve development as it allows these studies to be carried out in vivo through non-invasive imaging. Accumulating evidence suggests a role for contractility and intracardiac flow dynamics in cardiac valve development. However, these two factors have proved difficult to uncouple, especially since altering myocardial function affects the intracardiac flow pattern.
Methods and results
Here, we describe novel zebrafish models of developmental valve defects. We identified two mutant alleles of myosin heavy chain 6 that can be raised to adulthood despite having only one functional chamber—the ventricle. The adult mutant ventricle undergoes remodelling, and the atrioventricular (AV) valves fail to form four cuspids. In parallel, we characterized a novel mutant allele of southpaw, a nodal-related gene involved in the establishment of left–right asymmetry, which exhibits randomized heart and endoderm positioning. We first observed that in southpaw mutants the relative position of the two cardiac chambers is altered, affecting the geometry of the heart, while myocardial function appears unaffected. Mutant hearts that loop properly or exhibit situs inversus develop normally, whereas midline, unlooped hearts exhibit defects in their transvalvular flow pattern during AV valve development as well as defects in valve morphogenesis.
Our data indicate that intracardiac flow dynamics regulate valve morphogenesis independently of myocardial contractility.
PMCID: PMC4271066  PMID: 25100766
Zebrafish; Intracardiac flow pattern; Contractility; Cardiac valves; Adult models of cardiomyopathies
12.  Identification of Chemical Inhibitors of β-Catenin-Driven Liver Tumorigenesis in Zebrafish 
PLoS Genetics  2015;11(7):e1005305.
Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is one of the most lethal human cancers. The search for targeted treatments has been hampered by the lack of relevant animal models for the genetically diverse subsets of HCC, including the 20-40% of HCCs that are defined by activating mutations in the gene encoding β-catenin. To address this chemotherapeutic challenge, we created and characterized transgenic zebrafish expressing hepatocyte-specific activated β-catenin. By 2 months post fertilization (mpf), 33% of transgenic zebrafish developed HCC in their livers, and 78% and 80% of transgenic zebrafish showed HCC at 6 and 12 mpf, respectively. As expected for a malignant process, transgenic zebrafish showed significantly decreased mean adult survival compared to non-transgenic control siblings. Using this novel transgenic model, we screened for druggable pathways that mediate β-catenin-induced liver growth and identified two c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitors and two antidepressants (one tricyclic antidepressant, amitriptyline, and one selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) that suppressed this phenotype. We further found that activated β-catenin was associated with JNK pathway hyperactivation in zebrafish and in human HCC. In zebrafish larvae, JNK inhibition decreased liver size specifically in the presence of activated β-catenin. The β-catenin-specific growth-inhibitory effect of targeting JNK was conserved in human liver cancer cells. Our other class of hits, antidepressants, has been used in patient treatment for decades, raising the exciting possibility that these drugs could potentially be repurposed for cancer treatment. In support of this proposal, we found that amitriptyline decreased tumor burden in a mouse HCC model. Our studies implicate JNK inhibitors and antidepressants as potential therapeutics for β-catenin-induced liver tumors.
Author Summary
Liver cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death. Genetic analysis of liver cancer has enabled classification of these tumors into subsets with unique genetic, clinical, and prognostic features. The search for targeted liver cancer treatments has been hampered by the lack of relevant animal models for these genetically diverse subsets, including liver cancers that are defined by activating mutations in the gene encoding β-catenin, an integral component of the Wnt signaling pathway. Here we describe the generation and characterization of genetically modified zebrafish expressing hepatocyte-specific activated β-catenin. We used this new zebrafish model to screen for drugs that suppress β-catenin-induced liver growth, and identified two classes of hits, c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) inhibitors and antidepressants, that suppressed this phenotype. Our findings provide insights into the mechanisms by which β-catenin promotes liver tumor formation and implicate JNK inhibitors and antidepressants as potential treatments for a subset of human liver cancers.
PMCID: PMC4489858  PMID: 26134322
13.  Extensive Conversion of Hepatic Biliary Epithelial Cells to Hepatocytes after Near Total Loss of Hepatocytes in Zebrafish 
Gastroenterology  2013;146(3):776-788.
Background & Aims
Biliary epithelial cells (BECs) are considered to be a source of regenerating hepatocytes when hepatocyte proliferation is compromised. However, there is still controversy about the extent to which BECs can contribute to the regenerating hepatocyte population, and thereby to liver recovery. To investigate this issue, we established a zebrafish model of liver regeneration in which the extent of hepatocyte ablation can be controlled.
Hepatocytes were depleted by administration of metronidazole to Tg(fabp10a:CFP-NTR) animals. We traced the origin of regenerating hepatocytes using short-term lineage tracing experiments as well as the inducible Cre/loxP system; specifically, we utilized both a BEC tracer lineTg(Tp1:CreERT2) and a hepatocyte tracer line Tg(fabp10a:CreERT2). We also examined BEC and hepatocyte proliferation as well as liver marker gene expression during liver regeneration.
BECs gave rise to most of the regenerating hepatocytes in larval and adult zebrafish after severe hepatocyte depletion. Following hepatocyte loss, BECs proliferated as they dedifferentiated into hepatoblast-like cells; they subsequently differentiated into highly proliferative hepatocytes that restored the liver mass. This process was impaired in zebrafish wnt2bb mutants; in these animals, hepatocytes regenerated but their proliferation was greatly reduced.
BECs contribute to regenerating hepatocytes following substantial hepatocyte depletion in zebrafish, thereby leading to recovery from severe liver damage.
PMCID: PMC3943869  PMID: 24148620
oval cells; liver regeneration; dedifferentiation; stem cells
14.  Metabolic regulation of cellular plasticity in the pancreas 
Current biology : CB  2013;23(13):1242-1250.
Obese individuals exhibit an increase in pancreatic β-cell mass; conversely, scarce nutrition during pregnancy has been linked to β-cell insufficiency in the offspring (reviewed in [1, 2]). These phenomena are thought to be mediated mainly through effects on β-cell proliferation, since a nutrient sensitive β-cell progenitor population in the pancreas has not been identified. Here, we employed the FUCCI (Fluorescent Ubiquitination-based Cell Cycle Indicator) system to investigate β-cell replication in real-time, and found that high nutrient concentrations induce rapid β-cell proliferation. Importantly, we found that high nutrient concentrations also stimulate β-cell differentiation from progenitors in the intrapancreatic duct (IPD). Using a new zebrafish line where β-cells are constitutively ablated, we further show that β-cell loss and high nutrient intake synergistically activate these progenitors. At the cellular level, this activation process causes ductal cell reorganization as it stimulates their proliferation and differentiation. Notably, we link the nutrient-dependent activation of these progenitors to a down-regulation of Notch signaling specifically within the IPD. Furthermore, we show that the nutrient sensor mechanistic Target Of Rapamycin (mTOR) is required for endocrine differentiation from the IPD under physiological conditions as well as in the diabetic state. This study thus reveals critical insights into how cells modulate their plasticity in response to metabolic cues and identifies nutrient sensitive progenitors in the mature pancreas.
PMCID: PMC4206552  PMID: 23791726
15.  Homeostatic generation of reactive oxygen species protects the zebrafish liver from steatosis 
Hepatology (Baltimore, Md.)  2013;58(4):1326-1338.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease in both adults and children. The earliest stage of this disease is hepatic steatosis, in which triglycerides are deposited as cytoplasmic lipid droplets in hepatocytes. Through a forward genetic approach in zebrafish, we found that guanosine monophosphate (GMP) synthetase mutant larvae develop hepatic steatosis. We further demonstrate that activity of the small GTPase Rac1 and Rac1-mediated production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) are down-regulated in GMP synthetase mutant larvae. Inhibition of Rac1 activity or ROS production in wild-type larvae by small molecule inhibitors was sufficient to induce hepatic steatosis. More conclusively, treating larvae with hydrogen peroxide, a diffusible ROS that has been implicated as a signaling molecule, alleviated hepatic steatosis in both GMP synthetase mutant and Rac1 inhibitor-treated larvae, indicating that homeostatic production of ROS is required to prevent hepatic steatosis. We further found that ROS positively regulate the expression of the triglyceride hydrolase gene, which is responsible for the mobilization of stored triglycerides in hepatocytes. Consistently, inhibition of triglyceride hydrolase activity in wild-type larvae by a small molecule inhibitor was sufficient to induce hepatic steatosis. Conclusion: de novo GMP synthesis influences the activation of the small GTPase Rac1, which controls hepatic lipid dynamics through ROS-mediated regulation of triglyceride hydrolase expression in hepatocytes.
PMCID: PMC3791216  PMID: 23744565
16.  Whole Organism High Content Screening Identifies Stimulators of Pancreatic Beta-Cell Proliferation 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(8):e104112.
Inducing beta-cell mass expansion in diabetic patients with the aim to restore glucose homeostasis is a promising therapeutic strategy. Although several in vitro studies have been carried out to identify modulators of beta-cell mass expansion, restoring endogenous beta-cell mass in vivo has yet to be achieved. To identify potential stimulators of beta-cell replication in vivo, we established transgenic zebrafish lines that monitor and allow the quantification of cell proliferation by using the fluorescent ubiquitylation-based cell cycle indicator (FUCCI) technology. Using these new reagents, we performed an unbiased chemical screen, and identified 20 small molecules that markedly increased beta-cell proliferation in vivo. Importantly, these structurally distinct molecules, which include clinically-approved drugs, modulate three specific signaling pathways: serotonin, retinoic acid and glucocorticoids, showing the high sensitivity and robustness of our screen. Notably, two drug classes, retinoic acid and glucocorticoids, also promoted beta-cell regeneration after beta-cell ablation. Thus, this study establishes a proof of principle for a high-throughput small molecule-screen for beta-cell proliferation in vivo, and identified compounds that stimulate beta-cell proliferation and regeneration.
PMCID: PMC4130527  PMID: 25117518
17.  ETS factors regulate Vegf-dependent arterial specification 
Developmental cell  2013;26(1):45-58.
Vegf signaling specifies arterial fate during early vascular development by inducing the transcription of Delta-like 4 (Dll4), the earliest Notch ligand gene expressed in arterial precursor cells (aPCs). Dll4 expression precedes that of Notch receptors in arteries, and factors that direct its arterial-specific expression are not known. To identify the transcriptional program that initiates arterial Dll4 expression we characterized an arterial-specific and Vegf-responsive enhancer of Dll4. Our findings demonstrate that Notch signaling is not required for initiation of Dll4 expression in arteries, and suggest that Notch instead functions as a maintenance factor. Importantly, we find that Vegf signaling activates MAP kinase (MAPK)-dependent ETS factors in the arterial endothelium to drive expression of Dll4, as well as Notch4. These findings identify a Vegf/MAPK-dependent transcriptional pathway that specifies arterial identity by activating Notch signaling components, and illustrate how signaling cascades can modulate broadly expressed transcription factors to achieve tissue-specific transcriptional outputs.
PMCID: PMC3754838  PMID: 23830865
18.  In Vivo Cardiac Reprogramming Contributes to Zebrafish Heart Regeneration 
Nature  2013;498(7455):497-501.
Despite current treatment regimens, heart failure remains the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed world due to the limited capacity of adult mammalian ventricular cardiomyocytes to divide and replace ventricular myocardium lost from ischemia-induced infarct1,2. As a result, there is great interest to identify potential cellular sources and strategies to generate new ventricular myocardium3. Past studies have shown that lower vertebrate and early postnatal mammalian ventricular cardiomyocytes can proliferate to help regenerate injured ventricles4–6; however, recent studies have suggested that additional endogenous cellular sources may contribute to this overall ventricular regeneration3. Here, we have developed in the zebrafish a combination of fluorescent reporter transgenes, genetic fate-mapping strategies, and a ventricle-specific genetic ablation system to discover that differentiated atrial cardiomyocytes can transdifferentiate into ventricular cardiomyocytes to contribute to zebrafish cardiac ventricular regeneration. Using in vivo time-lapse and confocal imaging, we monitored the dynamic cellular events during atrial-to-ventricular cardiomyocyte transdifferentiation to define intermediate cardiac reprogramming stages. Importantly, we observed that Notch signaling becomes activated in the atrial endocardium following ventricular ablation, and discovered that inhibiting Notch signaling blocked the atrial-to-ventricular transdifferentiation and cardiac regeneration. Overall, these studies not only provide evidence for the plasticity of cardiac lineages during myocardial injury, but more importantly reveal an abundant new potential cardiac resident cellular source for cardiac ventricular regeneration.
PMCID: PMC4090927  PMID: 23783515
19.  The perivascular niche regulates breast tumor dormancy 
Nature cell biology  2013;15(7):807-817.
In a significant fraction of breast cancer patients, distant metastases emerge after years or even decades of latency. How disseminated tumor cells (DTCs) are kept dormant, and what ‘wakes them up’, are fundamental problems in tumor biology. To address these questions, we utilized metastasis assays in mice to show that dormant DTCs reside upon microvasculature of lung, bone marrow and brain. We then engineered organotypic microvascular niches to determine whether endothelial cells directly influence breast cancer cell (BCC) growth. These models demonstrated that endothelial-derived thrombospondin-1 induces sustained BCC quiescence. This suppressive cue was lost in sprouting neovasculature; time-lapse analysis showed that sprouting vessels not only permit, but accelerate BCC outgrowth. We confirmed this surprising result in dormancy models and in zebrafish, and identified active TGF-β1 and periostin as tumor-promoting, endothelial tip cell-derived factors. Our work reveals that stable microvasculature constitutes a ‘dormant niche,’ whereas sprouting neovasculature sparks micrometastatic outgrowth.
PMCID: PMC3826912  PMID: 23728425
20.  miR-10 Regulates the Angiogenic Behavior of Zebrafish and Human Endothelial Cells by Promoting VEGF Signaling 
Circulation research  2012;111(11):1421-1433.
Formation and remodeling of the vasculature during development and disease involves a highly conserved and precisely regulated network of attractants and repellants. Various signaling pathways control the behavior of endothelial cells, but their post-transcriptional dose-titration by miRNAs is poorly understood.
To identify miRNAs that regulate angiogenesis.
Methods and Results
We show that the highly conserved microRNA family encoding miR-10 regulates the behavior of endothelial cells during angiogenesis by positively titrating pro-angiogenic signaling. Knockdown of miR-10 led to premature truncation of intersegmental vessel growth (ISV) in the trunk of zebrafish larvae, while overexpression of miR-10 promoted angiogenic behavior in zebrafish and cultured human umbilical venous endothelial cells (HUVECs). We found that miR-10 functions, in part, by directly regulating the level of fms-related tyrosine kinase 1 (FLT1), a cell-surface protein that sequesters VEGF, and its soluble splice variant sFLT1. The increase in FLT1/sFLT1 protein levels upon miR-10 knockdown in zebrafish and in HUVECs inhibited the angiogenic behavior of endothelial cells largely by antagonizing VEGF receptor-2 signaling.
Our study provides insights into how FLT1 and VEGF receptor-2 signaling is titrated in a miRNA-mediated manner and establishes miR-10 as a potential new target for the selective modulation of angiogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3525481  PMID: 22955733
microRNA; angiogenesis; developmental biology; VEGF; fms-related tyrosine kinase 1
21.  Abnormal Nuclear Pore Formation Triggers Apoptosis in the Intestinal Epithelium of elys-Deficient Zebrafish 
Gastroenterology  2008;136(3):902-911.
Background & Aims
Zebrafish mutants generated by ethylnitrosourea (ENU)-mutagenesis provide a powerful tool for dissecting the genetic regulation of developmental processes, including organogenesis. One zebrafish mutant, “flotte lotte” (flo), displays striking defects in intestinal, liver, pancreas and eye formation at 78hpf. In this study we sought to identify the underlying mutated gene in flo and link the genetic lesion to its phenotype.
Positional cloning was employed to map the flo mutation. Sub-cellular characterization of flo embryos was achieved using histology, immunocytochemistry, bromodeoxyuridine incorporation analysis, confocal and electron microscopy.
The molecular lesion in flo is a nonsense mutation in the elys (embryonic large molecule derived from yolk sac) gene which encodes a severely truncated protein lacking the Elys C-terminal AT-hook DNA binding domain. Recently, ELYS has been shown to play a critical, and hitherto unsuspected, role in nuclear pore assembly. Though elys mRNA is expressed broadly during early zebrafish development, widespread early defects in flo are circumvented by the persistence of maternally-expressed elys mRNA until 24hpf. From 72hpf, elys mRNA expression is restricted to proliferating tissues, including the intestinal epithelium, pancreas, liver and eye. Cells in these tissues display disrupted nuclear pore formation; ultimately intestinal epithelial cells undergo apoptosis.
Our results demonstrate that Elys regulates digestive organ formation.
PMCID: PMC3804769  PMID: 19073184
22.  Hepatocyte Growth Factor Signaling in Intrapancreatic Ductal Cells Drives Pancreatic Morphogenesis 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(7):e1003650.
In a forward genetic screen for regulators of pancreas development in zebrafish, we identified donuts908, a mutant which exhibits failed outgrowth of the exocrine pancreas. The s908 mutation leads to a leucine to arginine substitution in the ectodomain of the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) tyrosine kinase receptor, Met. This missense mutation impedes the proteolytic maturation of the receptor, its trafficking to the plasma membrane, and diminishes the phospho-activation of its kinase domain. Interestingly, during pancreatogenesis, met and its hgf ligands are expressed in pancreatic epithelia and mesenchyme, respectively. Although Met signaling elicits mitogenic and migratory responses in varied contexts, normal proliferation rates in donut mutant pancreata together with dysmorphic, mislocalized ductal cells suggest that met primarily functions motogenically in pancreatic tail formation. Treatment with PI3K and STAT3 inhibitors, but not with MAPK inhibitors, phenocopies the donut pancreatic defect, further indicating that Met signals through migratory pathways during pancreas development. Chimera analyses showed that Met-deficient cells were excluded from the duct, but not acinar, compartment in the pancreatic tail. Conversely, wild-type intrapancreatic duct and “tip cells” at the leading edge of the growing pancreas rescued the donut phenotype. Altogether, these results reveal a novel and essential role for HGF signaling in the intrapancreatic ducts during exocrine morphogenesis.
Author Summary
The pancreas functions as an endocrine and exocrine gland that secretes hormones regulating blood glucose homeostasis, and pancreatic juice that aids the digestion and absorption of nutrients, respectively. Contrary to endocrine tissue development, that of the exocrine pancreas has received less attention. We conducted a forward genetic screen in zebrafish and identified HGF/Met signaling as a key regulator of exocrine development. We called the mutant donut because the body of the pancreas fails to elongate and thus remains rounded. The mutation leading to this phenotype affects the extracellular domain of Met, the hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) receptor, impairing its maturation, plasma membrane localization and phospho-activation. Although HGF/Met signaling may elicit many context-dependant cellular responses, our data indicate that HGF/Met signaling triggers the migration, but not the proliferation, of the pancreatic ductal cells to drive the extension of the pancreatic tail.
PMCID: PMC3723531  PMID: 23935514
23.  Mutation of zebrafish Snapc4 is associated with loss of the intrahepatic biliary network 
Developmental biology  2011;363(1):128-137.
Biliary epithelial cells line the intrahepatic biliary network, a complex three-dimensional network of conduits. The loss of differentiated biliary epithelial cells is the primary cause of many congenital liver diseases. We identified a zebrafish snapc4 (small nuclear RNA-activating complex polypeptide 4) mutant in which biliary epithelial cells initially differentiate but subsequently disappear. In these snapc4 mutant larvae, the biliary epithelial cells undergo apoptosis, leading to the degeneration of the intrahepatic biliary network. Consequently, in snapc4 mutant larvae, biliary transport of ingested fluorescent lipids to the gallbladder is blocked. Snapc4 is the largest subunit of the protein complex that regulates small nuclear RNA (snRNA) transcription. The snapc4s445 mutation causes a truncation of the C-terminus thereby deleting the domain responsible for a specific interaction with Snapc2, a vertebrate specific subunit of the SNAP complex. This mutation leads to a hypomorphic phenotype, as only a subset of snRNA transcripts are quantitatively altered in snapc4s445 mutant larvae. snapc2 knockdown also disrupts the intrahepatic biliary network in a similar fashion as in snapc4s445 mutant larvae. These data indicate that the physical interaction between Snapc2 and Snapc4 is important for the expression of a subset of snRNAs and biliary epithelial cell survival in zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC3711868  PMID: 22222761
Liver; snRNA; SNAP190; SNAPC2; biliary epithelial cells; vanishing bile duct
24.  Zebrafish in the Study of Early Cardiac Development 
Circulation Research  2012;110(6):870-874.
Heart development is a complex process that involves cell specification and differentiation, as well as elaborate tissue morphogenesis and remodeling, to generate a functional organ. The zebrafish has emerged as a powerful model system to unravel the basic genetic, molecular and cellular mechanisms of cardiac development and function. Here we summarize and discuss recent discoveries on early cardiac specification and the identification of the second heart field in zebrafish. In addition to the inductive signals regulating cardiac specification, these studies have shown that heart development also requires a repressive mechanism imposed by retinoic acid signaling to select cardiac progenitors from a multipotent population. Another recent advance in the study of early zebrafish cardiac development is the identification of the second heart field (SHF). These studies suggest that the molecular mechanisms that regulate SHF development are conserved between zebrafish and other vertebrates including mammals, and provide insight into the evolution of the SHF and its derivatives.
PMCID: PMC3329892  PMID: 22427324
retinoid acid signaling; Fgf signaling; second heart field; Ltbp3; zebrafish
25.  Analysis of Sphingosine-1-phosphate signaling mutants reveals endodermal requirements for the growth but not dorsoventral patterning of jaw skeletal precursors 
Developmental Biology  2011;362(2):230-241.
Development of the head skeleton involves reciprocal interactions between cranial neural crest cells (CNCCs) and the surrounding pharyngeal endoderm and ectoderm. Whereas elegant experiments in avians have shown a prominent role for the endoderm in facial skeleton development, the relative functions of the endoderm in growth versus regional identity of skeletal precursors have remained unclear. Here we describe novel craniofacial defects in zebrafish harboring mutations in the Sphingosine-1-phospate (S1P) type 2 receptor (s1pr2) or the S1P transporter Spinster 2 (spns2), and we show that S1P signaling functions in the endoderm for the proper growth and positioning of the jaw skeleton. Surprisingly, analysis of s1pr2 and spns2 mutants, as well as sox32 mutants that completely lack endoderm, reveals that the dorsal-ventral (DV) patterning of jaw skeletal precursors is largely unaffected even in the absence of endoderm. Instead, we observe reductions in the ectodermal expression of Fibroblast growth factor 8a (Fgf8a), and transgenic misexpression of Shha restores fgf8a expression and partially rescues the growth and differentiation of jaw skeletal precursors. Hence, we propose that the S1P-dependent anterior foregut endoderm functions primarily through Shh to regulate the growth but not DV patterning of zebrafish jaw precursors.
PMCID: PMC3265674  PMID: 22185793
Sphingosine-1-phosphate; Pharyngeal Endoderm; Facial Ectoderm; Craniofacial Skeleton; Shh; Zebrafish

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