As the scope of potential chemical warfare agents grows rapidly and as the diversity of potential threat scenarios expands with non-state actors, so a need for innovative approaches to countermeasure development has emerged. In the last few years, the utility of the zebrafish as a model organism that is amenable to high-throughput screening has become apparent and this system has been applied to the unbiased discovery of chemical warfare countermeasures. This review summarizes the in vivo screening approach that has been pioneered in the countermeasure discovery arena, and highlights the successes to date as well as the potential challenges in moving the field forward. Importantly, the establishment of a zebrafish platform for countermeasure discovery would offer a rapid response system for the development of antidotes to the continuous stream of new potential chemical warfare agents.
Perturbations in cerebral blood flow and abnormalities in blood vessel structure are the hallmarks of cerebrovascular disease. While there are many genetic and environmental factors that affect these entities through a heterogeneous group of disease processes, the ultimate final pathologic insult in humans is defined as a stroke, or damage to brain parenchyma. In the case of ischemic stroke, blood fails to reach its target destination whereas in hemorrhagic stroke, extravasation of blood occurs outside of the blood vessel lumen, resulting in direct damage to brain parenchyma. As these acute events can be neurologically devastating, if not fatal, development of novel therapeutics are urgently needed. The zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an attractive model for the study of cerebrovascular disease because of its morphological and physiological similarity to human cerebral vasculature, its ability to be genetically manipulated, and its fecundity allowing for large-scale, phenotype-based screens.
aneurysm; arteriovenous malformation; cavernous malformation; moyamoya; stroke; zebrafish
Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an important vertebrate model organism in biomedical research thanks to its ease of handling and translucent body, enabling in vivo imaging. Zebrafish embryos undergo spinal deformation upon exposure to chemical agents that inhibit DNA repair. Automated image-based quantification of spine deformation is therefore attractive for whole-organism based assays for use in early-phase drug discovery. We propose an automated method for accurate high-throughput measurement of tail deformations in multi-fish micro-plate wells. The method generates refined medial representations of partial tail-segments. Subsequently, these disjoint segments are analyzed and fused to generate complete tails. Based on estimated tail curvatures we reach a classification accuracy of 91% on individual animals as compared to known control treatment. This accuracy is increased to 95% when combining scores for fish in the same well.
Curvature extraction; high-throughput screening; quantitative microscopy; zebrafish (Danio rerio)
Optogenetics is a powerful research tool because it enables high-resolution optical control of neuronal activity. However, current optogenetic approaches are limited to transgenic systems expressing microbial opsins and other exogenous photoreceptors. Here, we identify optovin, a small molecule that enables repeated photoactivation of motor behaviors in wild type animals. Surprisingly, optovin's behavioral effects are not visually mediated. Rather, photodetection is performed by sensory neurons expressing the cation channel TRPA1. TRPA1 is both necessary and sufficient for the optovin response. Optovin activates human TRPA1 via structure-dependent photochemical reactions with redox-sensitive cysteine residues. In animals with severed spinal cords, optovin treatment enables control of motor activity in the paralyzed extremities by localized illumination. These studies identify a light-based strategy for controlling endogenous TRPA1 receptors in vivo, with potential clinical and research applications in non-transgenic animals, including humans.
Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)/CRISPR-associated (Cas) systems have evolved in bacteria and archaea as a defense mechanism to silence foreign nucleic acids of viruses and plasmids. Recent work has shown that bacterial type II CRISPR systems can be adapted to create guide RNAs (gRNAs) capable of directing site-specific DNA cleavage by the Cas9 nuclease in vitro. Here we show that this system can function in vivo to induce targeted genetic modifications in zebrafish embryos with efficiencies comparable to those obtained using ZFNs and TALENs for the same genes. RNA-guided nucleases robustly enabled genome editing at 9 of 11 different sites tested, including two for which TALENs previously failed to induce alterations. These results demonstrate that programmable CRISPR/Cas systems provide a simple, rapid, and highly scalable method for altering genes in vivo, opening the door to using RNA-guided nucleases for genome editing in a wide range of organisms.
Non-visual photosensation enables animals to sense light without sight. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms of non-visual photobehaviors are poorly understood, especially in vertebrate animals. Here, we describe the photomotor response (PMR), a robust and reproducible series of motor behaviors in zebrafish that is elicited by visual wavelengths of light, but does not require the eyes, pineal gland or other canonical deep-brain photoreceptive organs. Unlike the relatively slow effects of canonical non-visual pathways, motor circuits are strongly and quickly (seconds) recruited during the PMR behavior. We find that the hindbrain is both necessary and sufficient to drive these behaviors. Using in vivo calcium imaging, we identify a discrete set of neurons within the hindbrain whose responses to light mirror the PMR behavior. Pharmacological inhibition of the visual cycle blocks PMR behaviors, suggesting that opsin-based photoreceptors control this behavior. These data represent the first known light-sensing circuit in the vertebrate hindbrain.
For decades, studying the behavioral effects of individual drugs and genetic mutations has been at the heart of efforts to understand and treat nervous system disorders. High-throughput technologies adapted from other disciplines (e.g. high-throughput chemical screening, genomics) are changing the scale of data acquisition in behavioral neuroscience. Massive behavioral datasets are beginning to emerge, particularly from zebrafish labs, where behavioral assays can be performed rapidly and reproducibly in 96-well, high-throughput format. Mining these datasets and making comparisons across different assays are major challenges for the field. Here, we review behavioral barcoding, a process by which complex behavioral assays are reduced to a string of numeric features, facilitating analysis and comparison within and across datasets.
We have previously reported a simple and customizable CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) RNA-guided Cas9 nuclease (RGN) system that can be used to efficiently and robustly introduce somatic indel mutations in endogenous zebrafish genes. Here we demonstrate that RGN-induced mutations are heritable, with efficiencies of germline transmission reaching as high as 100%. In addition, we extend the power of the RGN system by showing that these nucleases can be used with single-stranded oligodeoxynucleotides (ssODNs) to create precise intended sequence modifications, including single nucleotide substitutions. Finally, we describe and validate simple strategies that improve the targeting range of RGNs from 1 in every 128 basepairs (bps) of random DNA sequence to 1 in every 8 bps. Together, these advances expand the utility of the CRISPR-Cas system in the zebrafish beyond somatic indel formation to heritable and precise genome modifications.
Because psychotropic drugs affect behavior, we can use changes in behavior to discover psychotropic drugs. The original prototypes of most neuroactive medicines were discovered in humans, rodents and other model organisms. Most of these discoveries were made by chance, but the process of behavior based drug discovery can be made more systematic and efficient. Fully automated platforms for analyzing the behavior of embryonic zebrafish capture digital video recordings of animals in each individual well of a 96-well plate before, during, and after a series of stimuli. To analyze systematically the thousands of behavioral recordings obtained from a large-scale chemical screen, we transform these behavioral recordings into numerical barcodes, providing a concise and interpretable summary of the observed phenotypes in each well. Systems-level analysis of these behavioral phenotypes generate testable hypotheses about the molecular mechanisms of poorly understood drugs and behaviors. By combining the in vivo relevance of behavior-based phenotyping with the scale and automation of modern drug screening technologies, systematic behavioral barcoding represents a means of discovering psychotropic drugs and provides a powerful, systematic approach for unraveling the complexities of vertebrate behavior.
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