Despite increased understanding of the fundamental biology regulating cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and heart failure, it has been challenging to find novel chemical or genetic modifiers of these pathways. Traditional cell-based methods do not model the complexity of an intact cardiovascular system and mammalian models are not readily adaptable to chemical or genetic screens. Our objective was to create an in vivo model suitable for chemical and genetic screens for hypertrophy and heart failure modifiers
Methods and results
Using the developing zebrafish, we established that the cardiac natriuretic peptide genes (nppa and nppb), known markers of cardiomyocyte hypertrophy and heart failure, were induced in the embryonic heart by pathological cardiac stimuli. This pathological induction was distinct from the developmental regulation of these genes. We created a luciferase-based transgenic reporter line that accurately modelled the pathological induction patterns of the zebrafish nppb gene. Utilizing this reporter line, we were able to show remarkable conservation of pharmacological responses between the larval zebrafish heart and adult mammalian models.
By performing a focused screen of chemical agents, we were able to show a distinct response of a genetic model of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy to the histone deacetylase inhibitor, Trichostatin A, and the mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1/2 inhibitor, U0126. We believe this in vivo reporter line will offer a unique approach to the identification of novel chemical or genetic regulators of myocardial hypertrophy and heart failure.
Natriuretic peptides; Hypertrophy; Heart development; Heart failure; Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
Target identification is a core challenge in chemical genetics. Here we use chemical similarity to predict computationally the targets of 586 compounds active in a zebrafish behavioral assay. Of 20 predictions tested, 11 had activities ranging from 1 to 10,000nM on the predicted targets. The role of two of these targets was tested in the original zebrafish phenotype. Prediction of targets from chemotype is rapid and may be generally applicable.
Transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) are powerful new research tools that enable targeted gene disruption in a wide variety of model organisms. Recent work has shown that TALENs can induce mutations in endogenous zebrafish genes, but to date only four genes have been altered, and larger-scale tests of the success rate, mutation efficiencies and germline transmission rates have not been described. Here, we constructed homodimeric TALENs to 10 different targets in various endogenous zebrafish genes and found that 7 nuclease pairs induced targeted indel mutations with high efficiencies ranging from 2 to 76%. We also tested obligate heterodimeric TALENs and found that these nucleases induce mutations with comparable or higher frequencies and have better toxicity profiles than their homodimeric counterparts. Importantly, mutations induced by both homodimeric and heterodimeric TALENs are passed efficiently through the germline, in some cases reaching 100% transmission. For one target gene sequence, we observed substantially reduced mutagenesis efficiency for a variant site bearing two mismatched nucleotides, raising the possibility that TALENs might be used to perform allele-specific gene disruption. Our results suggest that construction of one to two heterodimeric TALEN pairs for any given gene will, in most cases, enable researchers to rapidly generate knockout zebrafish.
Genetic long QT (LQT) syndrome is a life-threatening disorder caused by mutations that result in prolongation of cardiac repolarization. Recent work has demonstrated that a zebrafish model of LQT syndrome faithfully recapitulates several features of human disease including prolongation of ventricular action potential duration (APD), spontaneous early after-depolarizations, and 2:1 atrioventricular (AV) block in early stages of development. Due to their transparency, small size, and absorption of small molecules from their environment, zebrafish are amenable to high throughput chemical screens. We describe a small molecule screen using the zebrafish KCNH2 mutant breakdance to identify compounds that can rescue the LQT type 2 phenotype.
Methods and Results
Zebrafish breakdance embryos were exposed to test compounds at 48 hours of development and scored for rescue of 2:1 AV block at 72 hours in a 96-well format. Only compounds that suppressed the LQT phenotype in three of three fish were considered hits. Screen compounds were obtained from commercially available small molecule libraries (Prestwick and Chembridge). Initial hits were confirmed with dose response testing and time course studies. Optical mapping using the voltage sensitive dye di-4 ANEPPS was performed to measure compound effects on cardiac APDs. Screening of 1200 small molecules resulted in the identification of flurandrenolide and 2-methoxy-N-(4-methylphenyl) benzamide (2-MMB) as compounds that reproducibly suppressed the LQT phenotype. Optical mapping confirmed that treatment with each compound caused shortening of ventricular APDs. Structure activity studies and steroid receptor knockdown suggest that flurandrenolide functions via the glucocorticoid signaling pathway.
Using a zebrafish model of LQT type 2 syndrome in a high throughput chemical screen, we have identified two compounds, flurandrenolide and the novel compound, 2-MMB, as small molecules that rescue the zebrafish LQTS 2 by shortening the ventricular action potential duration. We provide evidence that flurandrenolide functions via the glucocorticoid receptor mediated pathway. These two molecules, and future discoveries from this screen, should yield novel tools for the study of cardiac electrophysiology and may lead to novel therapeutics for human LQT patients.
long QT syndrome; animal models of human disease; ion channels; chemical screening
Engineered zinc-finger nucleases (ZFNs) enable targeted genome modification. Here we describe Context-Dependent Assembly (CoDA), a platform for engineering ZFNs using only standard cloning techniques or custom DNA synthesis. Using CoDA ZFNs, we rapidly altered 20 genes in zebrafish, Arabidopsis, and soybean. The simplicity and efficacy of CoDA will enable broad adoption of ZFN technology and make possible large-scale projects focused on multi-gene pathways or genome-wide alterations.
A major obstacle for the discovery of psychoactive drugs is the inability to predict how small molecules will alter complex behaviors. We report the development and application of a high-throughput, quantitative screen for drugs that alter the behavior of larval zebrafish. We found that the multi-dimensional nature of observed phenotypes enabled the hierarchical clustering of molecules according to shared behaviors. Behavioral profiling revealed conserved functions of psychotropic molecules and predicted the mechanisms of action of poorly characterized compounds. In addition, behavioral profiling implicated new factors such as ether-a-go-go-related gene (ERG) potassium channels and immunomodulators in the control of rest and locomotor activity. These results demonstrate the power of high-throughput behavioral profiling in zebrafish to discover and characterize psychotropic drugs and to dissect the pharmacology of complex behaviors.
Neuroactive small molecules are indispensable tools for treating mental illnesses and dissecting nervous system function. However, it has been difficult to discover novel neuroactive drugs. Here, we describe a high—throughput (HT) behavior—based approach to neuroactive small molecule discovery in the zebrafish. We use automated screening assays to evaluate thousands of chemical compounds and find that diverse classes of neuroactive molecules cause distinct patterns of behavior. These `behavioral barcodes' can be used to rapidly identify novel psychotropic chemicals and to predict their molecular targets. For example, we identify novel acetylcholinesterase and monoamine oxidase inhibitors using phenotypic comparisons and computational techniques. By combining HT screening technologies with behavioral phenotyping in vivo, behavior—based chemical screens may accelerate the pace of neuroactive drug discovery and provide small—molecule tools for understanding vertebrate behavior.
Cardiac repolarization, the process by which cardiomyocytes return to their resting potential after each beat, is a highly regulated process that is critical for heart rhythm stability. Perturbations of cardiac repolarization increase the risk for life-threatening arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death. While genetic studies of familial long QT syndromes have uncovered several key genes in cardiac repolarization, the major heritable contribution to this trait remains unexplained. Identification of additional genes may lead to a better understanding of the underlying biology, aid in identification of patients at risk for sudden death, and potentially enable new treatments for susceptible individuals.
Methods and Results
We extended and refined a zebrafish model of cardiac repolarization by using fluorescent reporters of transmembrane potential. We then conducted a drug-sensitized genetic screen in zebrafish, identifying 15 genes, including GINS3, that affect cardiac repolarization. Testing these genes for human relevance in two concurrently completed genome wide association studies revealed that the human GINS3 ortholog is located in the 16q21 locus which is strongly associated with QT interval.
This sensitized zebrafish screen identified 15 novel myocardial repolarization genes. Among these genes is GINS3, the human ortholog of which is a major locus in two concurrent human genome wide association studies of QT interval. These results reveal a novel network of genes that regulate cardiac repolarization.
Genes; Action Potential; Electrophysiology; Ion Channels
Blood vessel formation in the vertebrate eye is a precisely regulated process. In the human retina, both an excess and a deficiency of blood vessels may lead to a loss of vision. To gain insight into the molecular basis of vessel formation in the vertebrate retina and to develop pharmacological means of manipulating this process in a living organism, we further characterized the embryonic zebrafish eye vasculature, and performed a small molecule screen for compounds that affect blood vessel morphogenesis. The screening of approximately 2000 compounds revealed four small molecules that at specific concentrations affect retinal vessel morphology but do not produce obvious changes in trunk vessels, or in the neuronal architecture of the retina. Of these, two induce a pronounced widening of vessel diameter without a substantial loss of vessel number, one compound produces a loss of retinal blood vessels accompanied by a mild increase of their diameter, and finally one other generates a severe loss of retinal vessels. This work demonstrates the utility of zebrafish as a screening tool for small molecules that affect eye vasculature and presents several compounds of potential therapeutic importance.
Blood; Circulation; Intraocular; Hyaloid; Vasculature; Angiogenesis; Chemical; Disease
Retinoids regulate key developmental pathways throughout life, and have potential uses for differentiation therapy. It should be possible to identify novel retinoids by coupling new chemical reactions with screens using the zebrafish embryonic model.
We synthesized novel retinoid analogues and derivatives by amide coupling, obtaining 80–92% yields. A small library of these compounds was screened for bioactivity in living zebrafish embryos. We found that several structurally related compounds significantly affect development. Distinct phenotypes are generated depending on time of exposure, and we characterize one compound (BT10) that produces specific cardiovascular defects when added 1 day post fertilization. When compared to retinoic acid (ATRA), BT10 shows similar but not identical changes in the expression pattern of embryonic genes that are known targets of the retinoid pathway. Reporter assays determined that BT10 interacts with all three RAR receptor sub-types, but has no activity for RXR receptors, at all concentrations tested.
Our screen has identified a novel retinoid with specificity for retinoid receptors. This lead compound may be useful for manipulating components of retinoid signaling networks, and may be further derivatized for enhanced activity.
Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) is a congenital disorder of progressive and widespread postnatal ossification of soft tissues1–4 and is without known effective treatments. Affected individuals harbor conserved mutations in the ACVR1 gene that are thought to cause constitutive activation of the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) type I receptor, activin receptor-like kinase-2 (ALK2)5. Here we show that intramuscular expression in the mouse of an inducible transgene encoding constitutively active ALK2 (caALK2), resulting from a glutamine to aspartic acid change at amino acid position 207, leads to ectopic endochondral bone formation, joint fusion and functional impairment, thus phenocopying key aspects of human FOP. A selective inhibitor of BMP type I receptor kinases, LDN-193189 (ref. 6), inhibits activation of the BMP signaling effectors SMAD1, SMAD5 and SMAD8 in tissues expressing caALK2 induced by adenovirus specifying Cre (Ad.Cre). This treatment resulted in a reduction in ectopic ossification and functional impairment. In contrast to localized induction of caALK2 by Ad.Cre (which entails inflammation), global postnatal expression of caALK2 (induced without the use of Ad.Cre and thus without inflammation) does not lead to ectopic ossification. However, if in this context an inflammatory stimulus was provided with a control adenovirus, ectopic bone formation was induced. Like LDN-193189, corticosteroid treatment inhibits ossification in Ad.Cre-injected mutant mice, suggesting caALK2 expression and an inflammatory milieu are both required for the development of ectopic ossification in this model. These results support the role of dysregulated ALK2 kinase activity in the pathogenesis of FOP and suggest that small molecule inhibition of BMP type I receptor activity may be useful in treating FOP and heterotopic ossification syndromes associated with excessive BMP signaling.
Arterial morphogenesis is an important and poorly understood process. In particular, the signaling events controlling arterial formation have not been established. We evaluated whether alterations in the balance between ERK1/2 and PI3K signaling pathways could stimulate arterial formation in the setting of defective arterial morphogenesis in mice and zebrafish. Increased ERK1/2 activity in mouse ECs with reduced VEGF responsiveness was achieved in vitro and in vivo by downregulating PI3K activity, suppressing Akt1 but not Akt2 expression, or introducing a constitutively active ERK1/2 construct. Such restoration of ERK1/2 activation was sufficient to restore impaired arterial development and branching morphogenesis in synectin-deficient mice and synectin-knockdown zebrafish. The same approach effectively stimulated arterial growth in adult mice, restoring arteriogenesis in mice lacking synectin and in atherosclerotic mice lacking both LDL-R and ApoB48. We therefore conclude that PI3K-ERK1/2 crosstalk plays a key role in the regulation of arterial growth and that the augmentation of ERK signaling via suppression of the PI3K signaling pathway can effectively stimulate arteriogenesis.
Zebrafish mutants have traditionally been obtained using random mutagenesis or retroviral insertions, methods that cannot be targeted to a specific gene and require laborious gene mapping and sequencing. Recently, we and others have shown that customized zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) can introduce targeted frame-shift mutations with high efficiency, thereby enabling directed creation of zebrafish gene mutations. Here we describe a detailed protocol for constructing ZFN expression vectors, for generating and introducing ZFN-encoding RNAs into zebrafish embryos, and for identifying ZFN-generated mutations in targeted genomic sites. All of our vectors and methods are compatible with previously described Zinc Finger Consortium reagents for constructing engineered zinc finger arrays. Using these methods, zebrafish founders carrying targeted mutations can be identified within four months.
Despite their ubiquity and impact, psychiatric illnesses and other disorders of the central nervous system remain among the most poorly treated diseases. Most psychiatric medicines were discovered due to serendipitous observations of behavioural phenotypes in humans, rodents and other mammals. Extensive behaviour-based chemical screens would likely identify novel psychiatric drugs. However, large-scale chemical screens in mammals are inefficient and impractical. In contrast, zebrafish are very well suited for high-throughput behaviour-based drug discovery. Furthermore, the vast amounts of data generated from large-scale behavioural screens in zebrafish will facilitate a systems-level analysis of how chemicals affect behaviour. Unlike serendipitous discoveries in mammals, a comprehensive and integrative analysis of zebrafish chemobehavioural phenomics may identify functional relationships that would be missed by more reductionist approaches. Thus, behaviour-based chemical screens in the zebrafish may improve our understanding of neurobiology and accelerate the pace of psychiatric drug discovery.
phenomics; chemical genetics; zebrafish
Functional and structural differences between arteries and veins lie at the core of the circulatory system, both in health and disease. Therefore, understanding how artery and vein cell identities are established is a fundamental biological challenge with significant clinical implications. Molecular genetic studies in zebrafish and other vertebrates in the past decade have begun to reveal in detail the complex network of molecular pathways that specify artery and vein cell fates during embryonic development. Recently, a chemical genetic approach has revealed evidence that artery-vein specification is governed by cross talk between phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) and extracellular signal regulated/mitogen activated protein kinase (ERK/MAPK) signaling in artery-vein specification. We discuss recent findings on the signaling pathways involved in artery-vein specification during zebrafish development, and compare and contrast these results to those from mammalian systems. It is anticipated that the complementary approaches of genetics and chemical biology, involving a variety of model organisms and systems, will lead to a better understanding of artery-vein specification, and possibly to novel therapeutic approaches to treat vascular diseases.
Artery-Vein Specification; Signaling Crosstalk; Shh; VEGF; Notch; Fox
It has been proposed that inhibitors of an oncogene's effects on multipotent hematopoietic progenitor cell differentiation may change the properties of the leukemic stem cells and complement the clinical use of cytotoxic drugs. Using zebrafish, we developed a robust in vivo hematopoietic differentiation assay that reflects the activity of the oncogene AML1-ETO. Screening for modifiers of AML1-ETO-mediated hematopoietic dysregulation uncovered unexpected roles of COX-2 and β-catenin-dependent pathways in AML1-ETO function. This approach may open doors for developing therapeutics targeting oncogene function within leukemic stem cells.
Bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signals coordinate developmental patterning and have essential physiological roles in mature organisms. Here we describe the first known small-molecule inhibitor of BMP signaling—dorsomorphin, which we identified in a screen for compounds that perturb dorsoventral axis formation in zebrafish. We found that dorsomorphin selectively inhibits the BMP type I receptors ALK2, ALK3 and ALK6 and thus blocks BMP-mediated SMAD1/5/8 phosphorylation, target gene transcription and osteogenic differentiation. Using dorsomorphin, we examined the role of BMP signaling in iron homeostasis. In vitro, dorsomorphin inhibited BMP-, hemojuvelin- and interleukin 6–stimulated expression of the systemic iron regulator hepcidin, which suggests that BMP receptors regulate hepcidin induction by all of these stimuli. In vivo, systemic challenge with iron rapidly induced SMAD1/5/8 phosphorylation and hepcidin expression in the liver, whereas treatment with dorsomorphin blocked SMAD1/5/8 phosphorylation, normalized hepcidin expression and increased serum iron levels. These findings suggest an essential physiological role for hepatic BMP signaling in iron-hepcidin homeostasis.
A structure-activity relationship study of dorsomorphin, a previously identified inhibitor of SMAD 1/5/8 phosphorylation by bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) type 1 receptors ALK2, 3, and 6, revealed that increased inhibitory activity could be accomplished by replacing the pendent 4-pyridine ring with 4-quinoline. The activity contributions of various nitrogen atoms in the core pyrazolo[1,5-a]pyrimidine ring were also examined by preparing and evaluating pyrrolo[1,2-a]pyrimidine and pyrazolo[1,5-a]pyridine derivatives. In addition, increased mouse liver microsome stability was achieved by replacing the ether substituent on the pendent phenyl ring with piperazine. Finally, an optimized compound 13 (LDN-193189 or DM-3189) demonstrated moderate pharmacokinetic characteristics (e.g. plasma t1/2 = 1.6 h) following intraperitoneal administration in mice. These studies provide useful molecular probes for examining the in vivo pharmacology of BMP signaling inhibition.
The field of neurotoxicology needs to satisfy two opposing demands: the testing of a growing list of chemicals, and resource limitations and ethical concerns associated with testing using traditional mammalian species. National and international government agencies have defined a need to reduce, refine or replace mammalian species in toxicological testing with alternative testing methods and non-mammalian models. Toxicological assays using alternative animal models may relieve some of this pressure by allowing testing of more compounds while reducing expense and using fewer mammals. Recent advances in genetic technologies and the strong conservation between human and non-mammalian genomes allows for the dissection of the molecular pathways involved in neurotoxicological responses and neurological diseases using genetically tractable organisms. In this review, applications of four non-mammalian species, Zebrafish, cockroach, Drosophila, and Caenorhabditis elegans, in the investigation of neurotoxicology and neurological diseases are presented.
Customized zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) form the basis of a broadly applicable tool for highly efficient genome modification. ZFNs are artificial restriction endonucleases consisting of a non-specific nuclease domain fused to a zinc finger array which can be engineered to recognize specific DNA sequences of interest. Recent proof-of-principle experiments have shown that targeted knockout mutations can be efficiently generated in endogenous zebrafish genes via non-homologous end-joining-mediated repair of ZFN-induced DNA double-stranded breaks. The Zinc Finger Consortium, a group of academic laboratories committed to the development of engineered zinc finger technology, recently described the first rapid, highly effective, and publicly available method for engineering zinc finger arrays. The Consortium has previously used this new method (known as OPEN for Oligomerized Pool ENgineering) to generate high quality ZFN pairs that function in human and plant cells.
Here we show that OPEN can also be used to generate ZFNs that function efficiently in zebrafish. Using OPEN, we successfully engineered ZFN pairs for five endogenous zebrafish genes: tfr2, dopamine transporter, telomerase, hif1aa, and gridlock. Each of these ZFN pairs induces targeted insertions and deletions with high efficiency at its endogenous gene target in somatic zebrafish cells. In addition, these mutations are transmitted through the germline with sufficiently high frequency such that only a small number of fish need to be screened to identify founders. Finally, in silico analysis demonstrates that one or more potential OPEN ZFN sites can be found within the first three coding exons of more than 25,000 different endogenous zebrafish gene transcripts.
Conclusions and Significance
In summary, our study nearly triples the total number of endogenous zebrafish genes successfully modified using ZFNs (from three to eight) and suggests that OPEN provides a reliable method for introducing targeted mutations in nearly any zebrafish gene of interest.
Pluripotent embryonic stem (ES) cells, which have the capacity to give rise to all tissue types in the body, show great promise as a versatile source of cells for regenerative therapy. However, the basic mechanisms of lineage specification of pluripotent stem cells are largely unknown, and generating sufficient quantities of desired cell types remains a formidable challenge. Small molecules, particularly those that modulate key developmental pathways like the bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling cascade, hold promise as tools to study in vitro lineage specification and to direct differentiation of stem cells toward particular cell types.
Methodology/ Principal Findings
We describe the use of dorsomorphin, a selective small molecule inhibitor of BMP signaling, to induce myocardial differentiation in mouse ES cells. Cardiac induction is very robust, increasing the yield of spontaneously beating cardiomyocytes by at least 20 fold. Dorsomorphin, unlike the endogenous BMP antagonist Noggin, robustly induces cardiomyogenesis when treatment is limited to the initial 24-hours of ES cell differentiation. Quantitative-PCR analyses of differentiating ES cells indicate that pharmacological inhibition of BMP signaling during the early critical stage promotes the development of the cardiomyocyte lineage, but reduces the differentiation of endothelial, smooth muscle, and hematopoietic cells.
Administration of a selective small molecule BMP inhibitor during the initial stages of ES cell differentiation substantially promotes the differentiation of primitive pluripotent cells toward the cardiomyocytic lineage, apparently at the expense of other mesodermal lineages. Small molecule modulators of developmental pathways like dorsomorphin could become versatile pharmacological tools for stem cell research and regenerative medicine.
Small molecules have played an important role in delineating molecular pathways involved in embryonic development and disease pathology. The need for novel small molecule modulators of biological processes has driven a number of targeted screens on large diverse libraries. However, due to the specific focus of such screens, the majority of the bioactive potential of these libraries remains unharnessed. In order to identify a higher proportion of compounds with interesting biological activities, we screened a diverse synthetic library for compounds that perturb the development of any of the multiple organs in zebrafish embryos. We identified small molecules that affect the development of a variety of structures such as heart, vasculature, brain, and body-axis. We utilized the previously known role of retinoic acid in anterior-posterior (A–P) patterning to identify the target of DTAB, a compound that caused A–P axis shortening in the zebrafish embryo. We show that DTAB is a retinoid with selective activity towards retinoic acid receptors γ and β. Thus, conducting zebrafish developmental screens using small molecules will not only enable the identification of compounds with diverse biological activities in a large chemical library but may also facilitate the identification of the target pathways of these biologically active molecules.
Angioblasts are multipotent progenitor cells that give rise to arteries or veins . Genetic disruption of the gridlock gene perturbs the artery/vein balance, resulting in generation of insufficient numbers of arterial cells . However, within angioblasts the precise biochemical signals that determine the artery/vein cell-fate decision are poorly understood. We have identified by chemical screening two classes of compounds that compensate for a mutation in the gridlock gene . Both target the VEGF signaling pathway and reveal two downstream branches emanating from the VEGF receptor with opposing effects on arterial specification. We show that activation of ERK (p42/44 MAP kinase) is a specific marker of early arterial progenitors and is among the earliest known determinants of arterial specification. In embryos, cells fated to contribute to arteries express high levels of activated ERK, whereas cells fated to contribute to veins do not. Inhibiting the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) branch with GS4898 or known PI3K inhibitors, or by expression of a dominant-negative form of AKT promotes arterial specification. Conversely, inhibition of the ERK branch blocks arterial specification, and expression of constitutively active AKT promotes venous specification. In summary, chemical genetic analysis has uncovered unanticipated opposing roles of PI3K and ERK in artery/vein specification.