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1.  Effects of Nitric Oxide on Neuromuscular Properties of Developing Zebrafish Embryos 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(1):e86930.
Nitric oxide is a bioactive signalling molecule that is known to affect a wide range of neurodevelopmental processes. However, its functional relevance to neuromuscular development is not fully understood. Here we have examined developmental roles of nitric oxide during formation and maturation of neuromuscular contacts in zebrafish. Using histochemical approaches we show that elevating nitric oxide levels reduces the number of neuromuscular synapses within the axial swimming muscles whilst inhibition of nitric oxide biosynthesis has the opposite effect. We further show that nitric oxide signalling does not change synapse density, suggesting that the observed effects are a consequence of previously reported changes in motor axon branch formation. Moreover, we have used in vivo patch clamp electrophysiology to examine the effects of nitric oxide on physiological maturation of zebrafish neuromuscular junctions. We show that developmental exposure to nitric oxide affects the kinetics of spontaneous miniature end plate currents and impacts the neuromuscular drive for locomotion. Taken together, our findings implicate nitrergic signalling in the regulation of zebrafish neuromuscular development and locomotor maturation.
PMCID: PMC3904980  PMID: 24489806
2.  Orthopedia Transcription Factor otpa and otpb Paralogous Genes Function during Dopaminergic and Neuroendocrine Cell Specification in Larval Zebrafish 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e75002.
The homeodomain transcription factor Orthopedia (Otp) is an important regulator for specification of defined subsets of neuroendocrine cells and dopaminergic neurons in vertebrates. In zebrafish, two paralogous otp genes, otpa and otpb, are present in the genome. Neither complete loss of Otp activity nor differential contributions of Otpa and Otpb to specification of defined neuronal populations have been analyzed in detail. We characterized zebrafish embryos and early larvae mutant for null alleles of otpa, otpb, or both genes to determine their individual contributions to the specification of th expressing dopaminergic neuronal populations as well as of crh, oxt, avp, trh or sst1.1 expressing neuroendocrine cells. otpa mutant larvae show an almost complete reduction of ventral diencephalic dopaminergic neurons, as reported previously. A small reduction in the number of trh cells in the preoptic region is detectable in otpa mutants, but no significant loss of crh, oxt and avp preoptic neuroendocrine cells. otpb single mutant larvae do not display a reduction in dopaminergic neurons or neuroendocrine cells in the otp expressing regions. In contrast, in otpa and otpb double mutant larvae specific groups of dopaminergic neurons as well as of crh, oxt, avp, trh and sst1.1-expressing neuroendocrine cells are completely lost. These observations suggest that the requirement for otpa and otpb function during development of the larval diencephalon is partially redundant. During evolutionary diversification of the paralogous otp genes, otpa maintained the prominent role in ventral diencephalic dopaminergic and neuroendocrine cell specification and is capable of partially compensating otpb loss of function. In addition, we identified a role of Otp in the development of a domain of somatostatin1-expressing cells in the rostral hindbrain, a region with strong otp expression but so far uncharacterized Otp function. Otp may thus be crucial for defined neuronal cell types also in the hindbrain.
PMCID: PMC3779234  PMID: 24073233
3.  The Visual System of Zebrafish and its Use to Model Human Ocular Diseases 
Developmental Neurobiology  2012;72(3):302-327.
Free swimming zebrafish larvae depend mainly on their sense of vision to evade predation and to catch prey. Hence there is strong selective pressure on the fast maturation of visual function and indeed the visual system already supports a number of visually-driven behaviors in the newly hatched larvae. The ability to exploit the genetic and embryonic accessibility of the zebrafish in combination with a behavioral assessment of visual system function has made the zebrafish a popular model to study vision and its diseases. Here, we review the anatomy, physiology and development of the zebrafish eye as the basis to relate the contributions of the zebrafish to our understanding of human ocular diseases.
PMCID: PMC3202066  PMID: 21595048
zebrafish; eye; anterior segment; retina; lens; photoreceptor; glaucoma; myopia; coloboma; holoprosencephaly
4.  Phylogenetic analysis of the vertebrate Excitatory/Neutral Amino Acid Transporter (SLC1/EAAT) family reveals lineage specific subfamilies 
The composition and expression of vertebrate gene families is shaped by species specific gene loss in combination with a number of gene and genome duplication events (R1, R2 in all vertebrates, R3 in teleosts) and depends on the ecological and evolutionary context. In this study we analyzed the evolutionary history of the solute carrier 1 (SLC1) gene family. These genes are supposed to be under strong selective pressure (purifying selection) due to their important role in the timely removal of glutamate at the synapse.
In a genomic survey where we manually annotated and analyzing sequences from more than 300 SLC1 genes (from more than 40 vertebrate species), we found evidence for an interesting evolutionary history of this gene family. While human and mouse genomes contain 7 SLC1 genes, in prototheria, sauropsida, and amphibia genomes up to 9 and in actinopterygii up to 13 SLC1 genes are present. While some of the additional slc1 genes in ray-finned fishes originated from R3, the increased number of SLC1 genes in prototheria, sauropsida, and amphibia genomes originates from specific genes retained in these lineages.
Phylogenetic comparison and microsynteny analyses of the SLC1 genes indicate, that theria genomes evidently lost several SLC1 genes still present in the other lineage. The genes lost in theria group into two new subfamilies of the slc1 gene family which we named slc1a8/eaat6 and slc1a9/eaat7.
The phylogeny of the SLC1/EAAT gene family demonstrates how multiple genome reorganization and duplication events can influence the number of active genes. Inactivation and preservation of specific SLC1 genes led to the complete loss of two subfamilies in extant theria, while other vertebrates have retained at least one member of two newly identified SLC1 subfamilies.
PMCID: PMC2873418  PMID: 20429920
5.  Visual acuity in larval zebrafish: behavior and histology 
Visual acuity, the ability of the visual system to distinguish two separate objects at a given angular distance, is influenced by the optical and neuronal properties of the visual system. Although many factors may contribute, the ultimate limit is photoreceptor spacing. In general, at least one unstimulated photoreceptor flanked by two stimulated ones is needed to perceive two objects as separate. This critical interval is also referred to as the Nyquist frequency and is according to the Shannon sampling theorem the highest spatial frequency where a pattern can be faithfully transmitted. We measured visual acuity in a behavioral experiment and compared the data to the physical limit given by photoreceptor spacing in zebrafish larvae.
We determined visual acuity by using the optokinetic response (OKR), reflexive eye movements in response to whole field movements of the visual scene. By altering the spatial frequency we determined the visual acuity at approximately 0.16 cycles/degree (cpd) (minimum separable angle = 3.1°). On histological sections we measured the retinal magnification factor and the distance between double cones, that are thought to mediate motion perception. These measurements set the physical limit at 0.24 cpd (2.1°).
The maximal spatial information as limited by photoreceptor spacing can not be fully utilized in a motion dependent visual behavior, arguing that the larval zebrafish visual system has not matured enough to optimally translate visual information into behavior. Nevertheless behavioral acuity is remarkable close to its maximal value, given the immature state of young zebrafish larvae.
PMCID: PMC2848032  PMID: 20193078
6.  Lrit3 Deficient Mouse (nob6): A Novel Model of Complete Congenital Stationary Night Blindness (cCSNB) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90342.
Mutations in LRIT3, coding for a Leucine-Rich Repeat, immunoglobulin-like and transmembrane domains 3 protein lead to autosomal recessive complete congenital stationary night blindness (cCSNB). The role of the corresponding protein in the ON-bipolar cell signaling cascade remains to be elucidated. Here we genetically and functionally characterize a commercially available Lrit3 knock-out mouse, a model to study the function and the pathogenic mechanism of LRIT3. We confirm that the insertion of a Bgeo/Puro cassette in the knock-out allele introduces a premature stop codon, which presumably codes for a non-functional protein. The mouse line does not harbor other mutations present in common laboratory mouse strains or in other known cCSNB genes. Lrit3 mutant mice exhibit a so-called no b-wave (nob) phenotype with lacking or severely reduced b-wave amplitudes in the scotopic and photopic electroretinogram (ERG), respectively. Optomotor tests reveal strongly decreased optomotor responses in scotopic conditions. No obvious fundus auto-fluorescence or histological retinal structure abnormalities are observed. However, spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) reveals thinned inner nuclear layer and part of the retina containing inner plexiform layer, ganglion cell layer and nerve fiber layer in these mice. To our knowledge, this is the first time that SD-OCT technology is used to characterize an animal model for CSNB. This phenotype is noted at 6 weeks and at 6 months. The stationary nob phenotype of mice lacking Lrit3, which we named nob6, confirms the findings previously reported in patients carrying LRIT3 mutations and is similar to other cCSNB mouse models. This novel mouse model will be useful for investigating the pathogenic mechanism(s) associated with LRIT3 mutations and clarifying the role of LRIT3 in the ON-bipolar cell signaling cascade.
PMCID: PMC3943948  PMID: 24598786
7.  Characterization of Light Lesion Paradigms and Optical Coherence Tomography as Tools to Study Adult Retina Regeneration in Zebrafish 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e80483.
Light-induced lesions are a powerful tool to study the amazing ability of photoreceptors to regenerate in the adult zebrafish retina. However, the specificity of the lesion towards photoreceptors or regional differences within the retina are still incompletely understood. We therefore characterized the process of degeneration and regeneration in an established paradigm, using intense white light from a fluorescence lamp on swimming fish (diffuse light lesion). We also designed a new light lesion paradigm where light is focused through a microscope onto the retina of an immobilized fish (focused light lesion). Focused light lesion has the advantage of creating a locally restricted area of damage, with the additional benefit of an untreated control eye in the same animal. In both paradigms, cell death is observed as an immediate early response, and proliferation is initiated around 2 days post lesion (dpl), peaking at 3 dpl. We furthermore find that two photoreceptor subtypes (UV and blue sensitive cones) are more susceptible towards intense white light than red/green double cones and rods. We also observed specific differences within light lesioned areas with respect to the process of photoreceptor degeneration: UV cone debris is removed later than any other type of photoreceptor in light lesions. Unspecific damage to retinal neurons occurs at the center of a focused light lesion territory, but not in the diffuse light lesion areas. We simulated the fish eye optical properties using software simulation, and show that the optical properties may explain the light lesion patterns that we observe. Furthermore, as a new tool to study retinal degeneration and regeneration in individual fish in vivo, we use spectral domain optical coherence tomography. Collectively, the light lesion and imaging assays described here represent powerful tools for studying degeneration and regeneration processes in the adult zebrafish retina.
PMCID: PMC3841302  PMID: 24303018
8.  Zebrafish Guanylate Cyclase Type 3 Signaling in Cone Photoreceptors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e69656.
The zebrafish guanylate cyclase type 3 (zGC3) is specifically expressed in cone cells. A specifc antibody directed against zGC3 revealed expression at the protein level at 3.5 dpf in outer and inner retinal layers, which increased in intensity between 3.5 and 7 dpf. This expression pattern differed from sections of the adult retina showing strong immunostaining in outer segments of double cones and short single cones, less intense immunoreactivity in long single cones, but no staining in the inner retina. Although transcription and protein expression levels of zGC3 are similar to that of the cyclase regulator guanylate cyclase-activating protein 3 (zGCAP3), we surprisingly found that zGCAP3 is present in a 28-fold molar excess over zGC3 in zebrafish retinae. Further, zGCAP3 was an efficient regulator of guanylate cyclases activity in native zebrafish retinal membrane preparations. Therefore, we investigated the physiological function of zGCAP3 by two different behavioral assays. Using the morpholino antisense technique, we knocked down expression of zGCAP3 and recorded the optokinetic and optomotor responses of morphants, control morphants, and wild type fish at 5–6 dpf. No significant differences in behavioral responses among wild type, morphants and control morphants were found, indicating that a loss of zGCAP3 has no consequences in primary visual processing in the larval retina despite its prominent expression pattern. Its physiological function is therefore compensated by other zGCAP isoforms.
PMCID: PMC3734133  PMID: 23940527
9.  Action Spectra of Zebrafish Cone Photoreceptors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68540.
Zebrafish is becoming an increasingly popular model in the field of visual neuroscience. Although the absorption spectra of its cone photopigments have been described, the cone action spectra were still unknown. In this study we report the action spectra of the four types of zebrafish cone photoreceptors, determined by measuring voltage responses upon light stimulation using whole cell patch clamp recordings. A generic template of photopigment absorption spectra was fit to the resulting action spectra in order to establish the maximum absorption wavelength, the A2-based photopigment contribution and the size of the β-wave of each cone-type. Although in general there is close correspondence between zebrafish cone action- and absorbance spectra, our data suggest that in the case of MWS- and LWS-cones there is appreciable contribution of A2-based photopigments and that the β-wave for these cones is smaller than expected based on the absorption spectra.
PMCID: PMC3702584  PMID: 23861916
10.  Influence of Kinship and MHC Class II Genotype on Visual Traits in Zebrafish Larvae (Danio rerio) 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51182.
Kin recognition can drive kin selection and the evolution of social behaviour. In zebrafish (Danio rerio, Hamilton 1822), kin recognition is based on olfactory and visual imprinting processes. If larvae are exposed to visual and chemical cues of kin at day 5 and 6 post fertilization they will recognize kin throughout life, while exposure to non-kin fails to trigger any recognition. Chemical imprinting signals are transcribed by polymorphic genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) code; however, the underlying mechanism for visual imprinting remains unclear. Here we provide evidence for the existence of family-specific differences in morphometry and pigmentation pattern of six day old zebrafish larvae. While rump, tail and body pigmentation were dependent on relatedness, iris pigmentation and morphometry were also influenced by MHC class II genotype. Our study revealed that the MHC not only influences the chemical signature of individuals, but also their visual appearance.
PMCID: PMC3519631  PMID: 23251449
11.  Enzymatic Relay Mechanism Stimulates Cyclic GMP Synthesis in Rod Photoresponse: Biochemical and Physiological Study in Guanylyl Cyclase Activating Protein 1 Knockout Mice 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e47637.
Regulation of cGMP synthesis by retinal membrane guanylyl cyclase isozymes (RetGC1 and RetGC2) in rod and cone photoreceptors by calcium-sensitive guanylyl cyclase activating proteins (GCAP1 and GCAP2) is one of the key molecular mechanisms affecting the response to light and is involved in congenital retinal diseases. The objective of this study was to identify the physiological sequence of events underlying RetGC activation in vivo, by studying the electrophysiological and biochemical properties of mouse rods in a new genetic model lacking GCAP1. The GCAP1−/− retinas expressed normal levels of RetGC isozymes and other phototransduction proteins, with the exception of GCAP2, whose expression was elevated in a compensatory fashion. RetGC activity in GCAP1−/− retinas became more sensitive to Ca2+ and slightly increased. The bright flash response in electroretinogram (ERG) recordings recovered quickly in GCAP1−/−, as well as in RetGC1−/−GCAP1−/−, and RetGC2−/−GCAP1−/− hybrid rods, indicating that GCAP2 activates both RetGC isozymes in vivo. Individual GCAP1−/− rod responses varied in size and shape, likely reflecting variable endogenous GCAP2 levels between different cells, but single-photon response (SPR) amplitude and time-to-peak were typically increased, while recovery kinetics remained faster than in wild type. Recovery from bright flashes in GCAP1−/− was prominently biphasic, because rare, aberrant SPRs producing the slower tail component were magnified. These data provide strong physiological evidence that rod photoresponse recovery is shaped by the sequential recruitment of RetGC isozyme activation by GCAPs according to the different GCAP sensitivities for Ca2+ and specificities toward RetGC isozymes. GCAP1 is the ‘first-response’ sensor protein that stimulates RetGC1 early in the response and thus limits the SPR amplitude, followed by activation of GCAP2 that adds stimulation of both RetGC1 and RetGC2 to speed-up photoreceptor recovery.
PMCID: PMC3474714  PMID: 23082185
12.  Lack of the Sodium-Driven Chloride Bicarbonate Exchanger NCBE Impairs Visual Function in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46155.
Regulation of ion and pH homeostasis is essential for normal neuronal function. The sodium-driven chloride bicarbonate exchanger NCBE (Slc4a10), a member of the SLC4 family of bicarbonate transporters, uses the transmembrane gradient of sodium to drive cellular net uptake of bicarbonate and to extrude chloride, thereby modulating both intracellular pH (pHi) and chloride concentration ([Cl−]i) in neurons. Here we show that NCBE is strongly expressed in the retina. As GABAA receptors conduct both chloride and bicarbonate, we hypothesized that NCBE may be relevant for GABAergic transmission in the retina. Importantly, we found a differential expression of NCBE in bipolar cells: whereas NCBE was expressed on ON and OFF bipolar cell axon terminals, it only localized to dendrites of OFF bipolar cells. On these compartments, NCBE colocalized with the main neuronal chloride extruder KCC2, which renders GABA hyperpolarizing. NCBE was also expressed in starburst amacrine cells, but was absent from neurons known to depolarize in response to GABA, like horizontal cells. Mice lacking NCBE showed decreased visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in behavioral experiments and smaller b-wave amplitudes and longer latencies in electroretinograms. Ganglion cells from NCBE-deficient mice also showed altered temporal response properties. In summary, our data suggest that NCBE may serve to maintain intracellular chloride and bicarbonate concentration in retinal neurons. Consequently, lack of NCBE in the retina may result in changes in pHi regulation and chloride-dependent inhibition, leading to altered signal transmission and impaired visual function.
PMCID: PMC3467262  PMID: 23056253
13.  Handed Foraging Behavior in Scale-Eating Cichlid Fish: Its Potential Role in Shaping Morphological Asymmetry 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(9):e44670.
Scale-eating cichlid fish, Perissodus microlepis, from Lake Tanganyika display handed (lateralized) foraging behavior, where an asymmetric ‘left’ mouth morph preferentially feeds on the scales of the right side of its victim fish and a ‘right’ morph bites the scales of the left side. This species has therefore become a textbook example of the astonishing degree of ecological specialization and negative frequency-dependent selection. We investigated the strength of handedness of foraging behavior as well as its interaction with morphological mouth laterality in P. microlepis. In wild-caught adult fish we found that mouth laterality is, as expected, a strong predictor of their preferred attack orientation. Also laboratory-reared juvenile fish exhibited a strong laterality in behavioral preference to feed on scales, even at an early age, although the initial level of mouth asymmetry appeared to be small. This suggests that pronounced mouth asymmetry is not a prerequisite for handed foraging behavior in juvenile scale-eating cichlid fish and might suggest that behavioral preference to attack a particular side of the prey plays a role in facilitating morphological asymmetry of this species.
PMCID: PMC3435272  PMID: 22970282
14.  Development and Degeneration of Cone Bipolar Cells Are Independent of Cone Photoreceptors in a Mouse Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(8):e44036.
Retinal photoreceptors die during retinal synaptogenesis in a portion of retinal degeneration. Whether cone bipolar cells establish regular retinal mosaics and mature morphologies, and resist degeneration are not completely understood. To explore these issues, we backcrossed a transgenic mouse expressing enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) in one subset of cone bipolar cells (type 7) into rd1 mice, a classic mouse model of retinal degeneration, to examine the development and survival of cone bipolar cells in a background of retinal degeneration. Our data revealed that both the development and degeneration of cone bipolar cells are independent of the normal activity of cone photoreceptors. We found that type 7 cone bipolar cells achieved a uniform tiling of the retinal surface and developed normal dendritic and axonal arbors without the influence of cone photoreceptor innervation. On the other hand, degeneration of type 7 cone bipolar cells, contrary to our belief of central-to-peripheral progression, was spatially uniform across the retina independent of the spatiotemporal pattern of cone degeneration. The results have important implications for the design of more effective therapies to restore vision in retinal degeneration.
PMCID: PMC3432094  PMID: 22952865

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