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In JoVE (2)

Other Publications (37)

Articles by David M. Langenau in JoVE

 JoVE Biology

Quantifying the Frequency of Tumor-propagating Cells Using Limiting Dilution Cell Transplantation in Syngeneic Zebrafish

1Department of Molecular Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 2Department of Molecular Pathology, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Harvard Stem Cell Institute


JoVE 2790

Limiting dilution cell transplantation assays are used to determine the frequency of tumor-propagating cells. This protocol describes a method for generating syngeneic zebrafish that develop fluorescently-labeled leukemia and details how to isolate and transplant these leukemia cells at limiting dilution into the peritoneal cavity of adult zebrafish.

 JoVE Immunology and Infection

Normal and Malignant Muscle Cell Transplantation into Immune Compromised Adult Zebrafish

1Molecular Pathology, Cancer Center and Center for Regenerative Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, 2Harvard Stem Cell Institute, 3GABBA - Instituto de Ciências Biomédicas Abel Salazar, Universidade do Porto


JoVE 52597

Here, we present a protocol for cell transplantation of zebrafish skeletal muscle and embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) into adult immune compromised rag2E450fs homozygous mutant zebrafish. This protocol allows for the efficient analysis of regeneration and malignant transformation of muscle cells.

Other articles by David M. Langenau on PubMed

Myc-induced T Cell Leukemia in Transgenic Zebrafish

The zebrafish is an attractive model organism for studying cancer development because of its genetic accessibility. Here we describe the induction of clonally derived T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in transgenic zebrafish expressing mouse c-myc under control of the zebrafish Rag2 promoter. Visualization of leukemic cells expressing a chimeric transgene encoding Myc fused to green fluorescent protein (GFP) revealed that leukemias arose in the thymus, spread locally into gill arches and retro-orbital soft tissue, and then disseminated into skeletal muscle and abdominal organs. Leukemic cells homed back to the thymus in irradiated fish transplanted with GFP-labeled leukemic lymphoblasts. This transgenic model provides a platform for drug screens and for genetic screens aimed at identifying mutations that suppress or enhance c-myc- induced carcinogenesis.

Knockdown of Zebrafish Fancd2 Causes Developmental Abnormalities Via P53-dependent Apoptosis

Mechanisms underlying the multiple developmental defects observed in Fanconi anemia (FA) patients are not well defined. We have identified the zebrafish homolog of human FANCD2, which encodes a nuclear effector protein that is monoubiquitinated in response to DNA damage, targeting it to nuclear foci where it preserves chromosomal integrity. Fancd2-deficient zebrafish embryos develop defects similar to those found in children with FA, including shortened body length, microcephaly, and microophthalmia, which are due to extensive cellular apoptosis. Developmental defects and increased apoptosis in Fancd2-deficient zebrafish were corrected by injection of human FANCD2 or zebrafish bcl2 mRNA, or by knockdown of p53, indicating that in the absence of Fancd2, developing tissues spontaneously undergo p53-dependent apoptosis. Thus, Fancd2 is essential during embryogenesis to prevent inappropriate apoptosis in neural cells and other tissues undergoing high levels of proliferative expansion, implicating this mechanism in the congenital abnormalities observed in human infants with FA.

The Use of Zebrafish to Understand Immunity

For decades immunologists have relied heavily on the mouse model for their experimental designs. With the realization of the important role innate immunity plays in orchestrating immune responses, invertebrates such as worms and flies have been added to the repertoire. Here, we discuss the advent of the zebrafish as a powerful vertebrate model organism that promises to positively impact immunologic research.

In Vivo Tracking of T Cell Development, Ablation, and Engraftment in Transgenic Zebrafish

Transgenic zebrafish that express GFP under control of the T cell-specific tyrosine kinase (lck) promoter were used to analyze critical aspects of the immune system, including patterns of T cell development and T cell homing after transplant. GFP-labeled T cells could be ablated in larvae by either irradiation or dexamethasone added to the water, illustrating that T cells have evolutionarily conserved responses to chemical and radiation ablation. In transplant experiments, thymocytes from lck-GFP fish repopulated the thymus of irradiated wild-type fish only transiently, suggesting that the thymus contains only short-term thymic repopulating cells. By contrast, whole kidney marrow permanently reconstituted the T lymphoid compartment of irradiated wild-type fish, suggesting that long-term thymic repopulating cells reside in the kidney.

Effects of Lethal Irradiation in Zebrafish and Rescue by Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation

The study of hematopoiesis has been greatly facilitated by transplantation of blood cell populations into recipient animals. Efficient engraftment of donor cells generally requires ablation of the host hematopoietic system. The zebrafish has recently emerged as a developmental and genetic system to study hematopoiesis. To enable the study of hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) biology, immune cell function, and leukemogenesis in zebrafish, we have developed hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) into adult recipient animals conditioned by gamma irradiation. Dose-response experiments showed that the minimum lethal dose (MLD) of 40 Gy led to the specific ablation of hematolymphoid cells and death by 14 days after irradiation. Sublethal irradiation doses of 20 Gy predominantly ablated lymphocytes and permitted transplantation of a lethal T-cell leukemia. Finally, transplantation of hematopoietic cells carrying transgenes yielding red fluorescent erythrocytes and green fluorescent leukocytes showed that HCT is sufficient to rescue the MLD, that recipient hematolymphoid tissues were repopulated by donor-derived cells, and that donor blood cell lineages can be independently visualized in living recipients. Together, these results establish transplantation assays to test for HSC function and oncogenic transformation in zebrafish.

Suppression of Apoptosis by Bcl-2 Overexpression in Lymphoid Cells of Transgenic Zebrafish

The zebrafish is an attractive vertebrate model for genetic studies of development, apoptosis, and cancer. Here we describe a transgenic zebrafish line in which T- and B-lymphoid cells express a fusion transgene that encodes the zebrafish bcl-2 protein fused to the enhanced green fluorescence protein (EGFP). Targeting EGFP-bcl-2 to the developing thymocytes of transgenic fish resulted in a 2.5-fold increase in thymocyte numbers and a 1.8-fold increase in GFP-labeled B cells in the kidney marrow. Fluorescent microscopic analysis of living rag2-EGFP-bcl-2 transgenic fish showed that their thymocytes were resistant to irradiation- and dexamethasone-induced apoptosis, when compared with control rag2-GFP transgenic zebrafish. To test the ability of bcl-2 to block irradiation-induced apoptosis in malignant cells, we compared the responsiveness of Myc-induced leukemias with and without EGFP-bcl-2 expression in living transgenic zebrafish. T-cell leukemias induced by the rag2-EGFP-Myc transgene were ablated by irradiation, whereas leukemias in double transgenic fish expressing both Myc and EGFP-bcl-2 were resistant to irradiation-induced apoptotic cell death. The forward genetic capacity of the zebrafish model system and the ability to monitor GFP-positive thymocytes in vivo make this an ideal transgenic line for modifier screens designed to identify genetic mutations or small molecules that modify bcl-2-mediated antiapoptotic pathways.

The Zebrafish: a New Model of T-cell and Thymic Development

T-cell and thymic development are processes that have been highly conserved throughout vertebrate evolution. Mammals, birds, reptiles and fish share common molecular signalling pathways that regulate the development of the adaptive immune system. This Review article focuses on defining the similarities and differences between zebrafish and mammalian T-cell immunobiology, and it highlights the advantages of using the zebrafish as a genetic model to uncover mutations that affect T-cell and thymic development. Finally, we summarize the use of the zebrafish as a new model for assessing stem-cell function and for drug discovery.

Cre/lox-regulated Transgenic Zebrafish Model with Conditional Myc-induced T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

We have created a stable transgenic rag2-EGFP-mMyc zebrafish line that develops GFP-labeled T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), allowing visualization of the onset and spread of this disease. Here, we show that leukemias from this transgenic line are highly penetrant and render animals moribund by 80.7 +/- 17.6 days of life (+/-1 SD, range = 50-158 days). These T cell leukemias are clonally aneuploid, can be transplanted into irradiated recipient fish, and express the zebrafish orthologues of the human T-ALL oncogenes tal1/scl and lmo2, thus providing an animal model for the most prevalent molecular subgroup of human T-ALL. Because T-ALL develops very rapidly in rag2-EGFP-mMyc transgenic fish (in which "mMyc" represents mouse c-Myc), this line can only be maintained by in vitro fertilization. Thus, we have created a conditional transgene in which the EGFP-mMyc oncogene is preceded by a loxed dsRED2 gene and have generated stable rag2-loxP-dsRED2-loxP-EGFP-mMyc transgenic zebrafish lines, which have red fluorescent thymocytes and do not develop leukemia. Transgenic progeny from one of these lines can be induced to develop T-ALL by injecting Cre RNA into one-cell-stage embryos, demonstrating the utility of the Cre/lox system in the zebrafish and providing an essential step in preparing this model for chemical and genetic screens designed to identify modifiers of Myc-induced T-ALL.

Effects of RAS on the Genesis of Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma

Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) is a devastating cancer with specific features of muscle differentiation that can result from mutational activation of RAS family members. However, to date, RAS pathway activation has not been reported in a majority of ERMS patients. Here, we have created a zebrafish model of RAS-induced ERMS, in which animals develop externally visible tumors by 10 d of life. Microarray analysis and cross-species comparisons identified two conserved gene signatures found in both zebrafish and human ERMS, one associated with tumor-specific and tissue-restricted gene expression in rhabdomyosarcoma and a second comprising a novel RAS-induced gene signature. Remarkably, our analysis uncovered that RAS pathway activation is exceedingly common in human RMS. We also created a new transgenic coinjection methodology to fluorescently label distinct subpopulations of tumor cells based on muscle differentiation status. In conjunction with fluorescent activated cell sorting, cell transplantation, and limiting dilution analysis, we were able to identify the cancer stem cell in zebrafish ERMS. When coupled with gene expression studies of this cell population, we propose that the zebrafish RMS cancer stem cell shares similar self-renewal programs as those found in activated satellite cells.

Heat Shock-inducible Cre/Lox Approaches to Induce Diverse Types of Tumors and Hyperplasia in Transgenic Zebrafish

RAS family members are among the most frequently mutated oncogenes in human cancers. Given the utility of zebrafish in both chemical and genetic screens, developing RAS-induced cancer models will make large-scale screens possible to understand further the molecular mechanisms underlying malignancy. We developed a heat shock-inducible Cre/Lox-mediated transgenic approach in which activated human kRASG12D can be conditionally induced within transgenic animals by heat shock treatment. Specifically, double transgenic fish Tg(B-actin-LoxP-EGFP-LoxP-kRASG12D; hsp70-Cre) developed four types of tumors and hyperplasia after heat shock of whole zebrafish embryos, including rhabdomyosarcoma, myeloproliferative disorder, intestinal hyperplasia, and malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. Using ex vivo heat shock and transplantation of whole kidney marrow cells from double transgenic animals, we were able to generate specifically kRASG12D-induced myeloproliferative disorder in recipient fish. This heat shock-inducible recombination approach allowed for the generation of multiple types of RAS-induced tumors and hyperplasia without characterizing tissue-specific promoters. Moreover, these tumors and hyperplasia closely resemble human diseases at both the morphologic and molecular levels.

Heat-shock Induction of T-cell Lymphoma/leukaemia in Conditional Cre/lox-regulated Transgenic Zebrafish

The zebrafish is an ideal vertebrate model system to investigate the complex genetic basis of cancer because it has the capacity for in vivo tumour-cell imaging and forward genetic screens, and the molecular mechanisms regulating malignancy are remarkably conserved when compared with human. Our laboratory has previously generated transgenic zebrafish models that overexpress the mouse c-Myc gene fused to enhanced green fluorescent protein (EGFP) and develop T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) that recapitulates the human disease both molecularly and pathologically. Our previous models have been limited by disease onset prior to sexual maturity and by the low disease penetrance when conditional transgenic embryos are injected with Cre RNA. Here, we report a novel system in which compound transgenic fish expressed both Cre controlled by the heat-shock promoter and a rag2-promoter-regulated lox-dsRED2-lox-EGFP-mMyc cassette rag2-LDL-EMyc in developing T cells. After heat-shock treatment at 3 d postfertilisation (dpf) for 45 min at 37 degrees C, 81% of compound transgenic fish developed T-lymphoblastic lymphoma (T-LBL, mean latency 120 +/- 43 (standard deviation) days of life), which rapidly progressed to T-ALL. Heat-shock-regulated transgenic technology in zebrafish provides the missing link necessary to exploit the powerful genetic capacity of this organism to probe the multi-step molecular pathogenesis of leukaemia.

Generation and Characterization of Transgenic Zebrafish Lines Using Different Ubiquitous Promoters

Two commonly used promoters to ubiquitously express transgenes in zebrafish are the Xenopus laevis elongation factor 1 alpha promoter (XlEef1a1) and the zebrafish histone variant H2A.F/Z (h2afv) promoter. Recently, transgenes utilizing these promoters were shown to be silenced in certain adult tissues, particularly the central nervous system. To overcome this limitation, we cloned the promoters of four zebrafish genes that likely are transcribed ubiquitously throughout development and into the adult. These four genes are the TATA box binding protein gene, the taube nuss-like gene, the eukaryotic elongation factor 1-gamma gene, and the beta-actin-1 gene. We PCR amplified approximately 2.5 kb upstream of the putative translational start site of each gene and cloned each into a Tol2 expression vector that contains the EGFP reporter transgene. We used these four Tol2 vectors to independently generate stable transgenic fish lines for analysis of transgene expression during development and in the adult. We demonstrated that all four promoters drive a very broad pattern of EGFP expression throughout development and the adult. Using the retina as a well-characterized component of the CNS, all four promoters appeared to drive EGFP expression in all neuronal and non-neuronal cells of the adult retina. In contrast, the h2afv promoter failed to express EGFP in the adult retina. When we examined EGFP expression in the various cells of the blood cell lineage, we observed that all four promoters exhibited a more heterogenous expression pattern than either the XlEef1a1 or h2afv promoters. While these four ubiquitous promoters did not express EGFP in all the adult blood cells, they did express EGFP throughout the CNS and in broader expression patterns in the adult than either the XlEef1a1 or h2afv promoters. For these reasons, these four promoters will be valuable tools for expressing transgenes in adult zebrafish.

Construction and Application of a Zebrafish Array Comparative Genomic Hybridization Platform

The zebrafish is emerging as a prominent model system for studying the genetics of human development and disease. Genetic alterations that underlie each mutant model can exist in the form of single base changes, balanced chromosomal rearrangements, or genetic imbalances. To detect genetic imbalances in an unbiased genome-wide fashion, array comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) can be used. We have developed a 5-Mb resolution array CGH platform specifically for the zebrafish. This platform contains 286 bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) clones, enriched for orthologous sequences of human oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. Each BAC clone has been end-sequenced and cytogenetically assigned to a specific location within the zebrafish genome, allowing for ease of integration of array CGH data with the current version of the genome assembly. This platform has been applied to three zebrafish cancer models. Significant genomic imbalances were detected in each model, identifying different regions that may potentially play a role in tumorigenesis. Hence, this platform should be a useful resource for genetic dissection of additional zebrafish developmental and disease models as well as a benchmark for future array CGH platform development.

Zebrafish As a Model for Cancer Self-renewal

Self-renewal is the process by which normal stem cells and cancer cells make more of themselves. In cancer, this process is ultimately responsible for the infinite replicative potential of malignant cells and is likely found in residual cell populations that evade conventional therapy. Two intrinsically opposing hypotheses have emerged to explain how self-renewal occurs in cancer. The cancer stem cell hypothesis states that self-renewal is confined to a discrete subpopulation of malignant cells, whereas the stochastic model suggests that all tumor cells have the potential to self-renew. Presently, the gold standard for measuring cancer self-renewal is limiting dilution cell transplantation into immune-matched or immune-deficient animals. From these experiments, tumor-initiating frequency can be calculated based on the number of animals that engraft disease following transplantation of various doses of tumor cells. Here, we describe how self-renewal assays are performed, summarize the current experimental models that support the cancer stem cell and stochastic models of cancer self-renewal, and enumerate how the zebrafish can be used to uncover important pathways in cancer self-renewal.

High-throughput Cell Transplantation Establishes That Tumor-initiating Cells Are Abundant in Zebrafish T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

Self-renewal is a feature of cancer and can be assessed by cell transplantation into immune-compromised or immune-matched animals. However, studies in zebrafish have been severely limited by lack of these reagents. Here, Myc-induced T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemias (T-ALLs) have been made in syngeneic, clonal zebrafish and can be transplanted into sibling animals without the need for immune suppression. These studies show that self-renewing cells are abundant in T-ALL and comprise 0.1% to 15.9% of the T-ALL mass. Large-scale single-cell transplantation experiments established that T-ALLs can be initiated from a single cell and that leukemias exhibit wide differences in tumor-initiating potential. T-ALLs also can be introduced into clonal-outcrossed animals, and T-ALLs arising in mixed genetic backgrounds can be transplanted into clonal recipients without the need for major histocompatibility complex matching. Finally, high-throughput imaging methods are described that allow large numbers of fluorescent transgenic animals to be imaged simultaneously, facilitating the rapid screening of engrafted animals. Our experiments highlight the large numbers of zebrafish that can be experimentally assessed by cell transplantation and establish new high-throughput methods to functionally interrogate gene pathways involved in cancer self-renewal.

AMAZe-ing Tools for Mosaic Analysis in Zebrafish

T-lymphoblastic Lymphoma Cells Express High Levels of BCL2, S1P1, and ICAM1, Leading to a Blockade of Tumor Cell Intravasation

The molecular events underlying the progression of T-lymphoblastic lymphoma (T-LBL) to acute T-lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) remain elusive. In our zebrafish model, concomitant overexpression of bcl-2 with Myc accelerated T-LBL onset while inhibiting progression to T-ALL. The T-LBL cells failed to invade the vasculature and showed evidence of increased homotypic cell-cell adhesion and autophagy. Further analysis using clinical biopsy specimens revealed autophagy and increased levels of BCL2, S1P1, and ICAM1 in human T-LBL compared with T-ALL. Inhibition of S1P1 signaling in T-LBL cells led to decreased homotypic adhesion in vitro and increased tumor cell intravasation in vivo. Thus, blockade of intravasation and hematologic dissemination in T-LBL is due to elevated S1P1 signaling, increased expression of ICAM1, and augmented homotypic cell-cell adhesion.

Selection-free Zinc-finger-nuclease Engineering by Context-dependent Assembly (CoDA)

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-generated ZFNs, we rapidly altered 20 genes in Danio rerio, Arabidopsis thaliana and Glycine max. The simplicity and efficacy of CoDA will enable broad adoption of ZFN technology and make possible large-scale projects focused on multigene pathways or genome-wide alterations.

High-throughput Imaging of Adult Fluorescent Zebrafish with an LED Fluorescence Macroscope

Zebrafish are a useful vertebrate model for the study of development, behavior, disease and cancer. A major advantage of zebrafish is that large numbers of animals can be economically used for experimentation; however, high-throughput methods for imaging live adult zebrafish had not been developed. Here, we describe protocols for building a light-emitting diode (LED) fluorescence macroscope and for using it to simultaneously image up to 30 adult animals that transgenically express a fluorescent protein, are transplanted with fluorescently labeled tumor cells or are tagged with fluorescent elastomers. These protocols show that the LED fluorescence macroscope is capable of distinguishing five fluorescent proteins and can image unanesthetized swimming adult zebrafish in multiple fluorescent channels simultaneously. The macroscope can be built and used for imaging within 1 day, whereas creating fluorescently labeled adult zebrafish requires 1 hour to several months, depending on the method chosen. The LED fluorescence macroscope provides a low-cost, high-throughput method to rapidly screen adult fluorescent zebrafish and it will be useful for imaging transgenic animals, screening for tumor engraftment, and tagging individual fish for long-term analysis.

Zebrafish Models of Rhabdomyosarcoma

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), an aggressive malignant neoplasm that shows features of skeletal muscle, is the most common soft tissue tumor of childhood. In children, the major subtypes are embryonal and alveolar. Although localized disease responds to a multimodal treatment, the prognosis for patients with high-risk features and metastasis remains dismal. Several in vivo models of RMS have been developed in mouse, human xenografts, zebrafish, and Drosophila to better understand the underlying mechanisms governing malignancy. The findings so far have indicated the potential role of skeletal muscle precursor cells in malignant transformation. To better understand histogenesis and different aspects of tumorigenesis in RMS, we have previously developed a robust zebrafish model of kRAS-induced RMS, which shares morphologic and immunophenotypic features with the human counterpart. Cross-species mircroarray comparisons confirm that conserved genetic pathways drive RMS growth. The ease for ex vivo manipulation allows the development of different transgenic and co-injection strategies to induce tumor formation in zebrafish. In contrast to other vertebrate model systems, the tumor onset in zebrafish is short, allowing for efficient study of different tumor processes including tumor growth, self-renewal, and maintenance.

Fluorescent Imaging of Cancer in Zebrafish

Zebrafish are an ideal model organism to research cancer. Zebrafish embryos and larvae are optically translucent, which has made imaging multiple processes in development and disease possible. When coupled with fluorescent imaging techniques, zebrafish are fast becoming a model of choice for following tumor formation. This is highlighted by recent studies using fluorescent proteins to image xenograft transplantation, neovascularization, growth responses to drug treatments, and self-renewal. Fluorescent labeled tumors can be generated in zebrafish by multiple methods including chemical mutagenesis, oncogene expression by mosaic or stable transgenesis, or genetic mutations that are predisposing to cancer. In this chapter, we highlight the studies that have employed fluorescence to follow critical aspects of tumorigenesis, with particular focus on providing methods for labeling, isolating, transplanting, and imaging fluorescently labeled tumors in zebrafish.

Sarcomas Induced in Discrete Subsets of Prospectively Isolated Skeletal Muscle Cells

Soft-tissue sarcomas are heterogeneous cancers that can present with tissue-specific differentiation markers. To examine the cellular basis for this histopathological variation and to identify sarcoma-relevant molecular pathways, we generated a chimeric mouse model in which sarcoma-associated genetic lesions can be introduced into discrete, muscle-resident myogenic and mesenchymal cell lineages. Expression of Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene [Kras(G12V)] and disruption of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A; p16p19) in prospectively isolated satellite cells gave rise to pleomorphic rhabdomyosarcomas (MyoD-, Myogenin- and Desmin-positive), whereas introduction of the same oncogenetic hits in nonmyogenic progenitors induced pleomorphic sarcomas lacking myogenic features. Transcriptional profiling demonstrated that myogenic and nonmyogenic Kras; p16p19(null) sarcomas recapitulate gene-expression signatures of human rhabdomyosarcomas and identified a cluster of genes that is concordantly up-regulated in both mouse and human sarcomas. This cluster includes genes associated with Ras and mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) signaling, a finding consistent with activation of the Ras and mTOR pathways both in Kras; p16p19(null) sarcomas and in 26-50% of human rhabdomyosarcomas surveyed. Moreover, chemical inhibition of Ras or mTOR signaling arrested the growth of mouse Kras; p16p19(null) sarcomas and of human rhabdomyosarcoma cells in vitro and in vivo. Taken together, these data demonstrate the critical importance of lineage commitment within the tumor cell-of-origin in determining sarcoma histotype and introduce an experimental platform for rapid dissection of sarcoma-relevant cellular and molecular events.

In Vivo Imaging of Tumor-propagating Cells, Regional Tumor Heterogeneity, and Dynamic Cell Movements in Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma

Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) is an aggressive pediatric sarcoma of muscle. Here, we show that ERMS-propagating potential is confined to myf5+ cells and can be visualized in live, fluorescent transgenic zebrafish. During early tumor growth, myf5+ ERMS cells reside adjacent normal muscle fibers. By late-stage ERMS, myf5+ cells are reorganized into distinct regions separated from differentiated tumor cells. Time-lapse imaging of late-stage ERMS revealed that myf5+ cells populate newly formed tumor only after seeding by highly migratory myogenin+ ERMS cells. Moreover, myogenin+ ERMS cells can enter the vasculature, whereas myf5+ ERMS-propagating cells do not. Our data suggest that non-tumor-propagating cells likely have important supportive roles in cancer progression and facilitate metastasis.

Improved Somatic Mutagenesis in Zebrafish Using Transcription Activator-like Effector Nucleases (TALENs)

Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs) made by Context-Dependent Assembly (CoDA) and Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases (TALENs) provide robust and user-friendly technologies for efficiently inactivating genes in zebrafish. These designer nucleases bind to and cleave DNA at particular target sites, inducing error-prone repair that can result in insertion or deletion mutations. Here, we assess the relative efficiencies of these technologies for inducing somatic DNA mutations in mosaic zebrafish. We find that TALENs exhibited a higher success rate for obtaining active nucleases capable of inducing mutations than compared with CoDA ZFNs. For example, all six TALENs tested induced DNA mutations at genomic target sites while only a subset of CoDA ZFNs exhibited detectable rates of mutagenesis. TALENs also exhibited higher mutation rates than CoDA ZFNs that had not been pre-screened using a bacterial two-hybrid assay, with DNA mutation rates ranging from 20%-76.8% compared to 1.1%-3.3%. Furthermore, the broader targeting range of TALENs enabled us to induce mutations at the methionine translation start site, sequences that were not targetable using the CoDA ZFN platform. TALENs exhibited similar toxicity to CoDA ZFNs, with >50% of injected animals surviving to 3 days of life. Taken together, our results suggest that TALEN technology provides a robust alternative to CoDA ZFNs for inducing targeted gene-inactivation in zebrafish, making it a preferred technology for creating targeted knockout mutants in zebrafish.

Through the Looking Glass: Visualizing Leukemia Growth, Migration, and Engraftment Using Fluorescent Transgenic Zebrafish

Zebrafish have emerged as a powerful model of development and cancer. Human, mouse, and zebrafish malignancies exhibit striking histopathologic and molecular similarities, underscoring the remarkable conservation of genetic pathways required to induce cancer. Zebrafish are uniquely suited for large-scale studies in which hundreds of animals can be used to investigate cancer processes. Moreover, zebrafish are small in size, optically clear during development, and amenable to genetic manipulation. Facile transgenic approaches and new technologies in gene inactivation have provided much needed genomic resources to interrogate the function of specific oncogenic and tumor suppressor pathways in cancer. This manuscript focuses on the unique attribute of labeling leukemia cells with fluorescent proteins and directly visualizing cancer processes in vivo including tumor growth, dissemination, and intravasation into the vasculature. We will also discuss the use of fluorescent transgenic approaches and cell transplantation to assess leukemia-propagating cell frequency and response to chemotherapy.

A Novel Chemical Screening Strategy in Zebrafish Identifies Common Pathways in Embryogenesis and Rhabdomyosarcoma Development

The zebrafish is a powerful genetic model that has only recently been used to dissect developmental pathways involved in oncogenesis. We hypothesized that operative pathways during embryogenesis would also be used for oncogenesis. In an effort to define RAS target genes during embryogenesis, gene expression was evaluated in Tg(hsp70-HRAS(G12V)) zebrafish embryos subjected to heat shock. dusp6 was activated by RAS, and this was used as the basis for a chemical genetic screen to identify small molecules that interfere with RAS signaling during embryogenesis. A KRAS(G12D)-induced zebrafish embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma was then used to assess the therapeutic effects of the small molecules. Two of these inhibitors, PD98059 and TPCK, had anti-tumor activity as single agents in both zebrafish embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma and a human cell line of rhabdomyosarcoma that harbored activated mutations in NRAS. PD98059 inhibited MEK1 whereas TPCK suppressed S6K1 activity; however, the combined treatment completely suppressed eIF4B phosphorylation and decreased translation initiation. Our work demonstrates that the activated pathways in RAS induction during embryogenesis are also important in oncogenesis and that inhibition of these pathways suppresses tumor growth.

The Histone Methyltransferase SUV39H1 Suppresses Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma Formation in Zebrafish

Epigenetics, or the reversible and heritable marks of gene regulation not including DNA sequence, encompasses chromatin modifications on both the DNA and histones and is as important as the DNA sequence itself. Chromatin-modifying factors are playing an increasingly important role in tumorigenesis, particularly among pediatric rhabdomyosarcomas (RMS), revealing potential novel therapeutic targets. We performed an overexpression screen of chromatin-modifying factors in a KRAS(G12D)-driven zebrafish model for RMS. Here, we describe the identification of a histone H3 lysine 9 histone methyltransferase, SUV39H1, as a suppressor of embryonal RMS formation in zebrafish. This suppression is specific to the histone methyltransferase activity of SUV39H1, as point mutations in the SET domain lacked the effect. SUV39H1-overexpressing and control tumors have a similar proliferation rate, muscle differentiation state, and tumor growth rate. Strikingly, SUV39H1-overexpressing fish initiate fewer tumors, which results in the observed suppressive phenotype. We demonstrate that the delayed tumor onset occurs between 5 and 7 days post fertilization. Gene expression profiling at these stages revealed that in the context of KRAS(G12D) overexpression, SUV39H1 may suppress cell cycle progression. Our studies provide evidence for the role of SUV39H1 as a tumor suppressor.

Zebrafish Rhabdomyosarcoma Reflects the Developmental Stage of Oncogene Expression During Myogenesis

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a pediatric malignancy thought to arise from the uncontrolled proliferation of myogenic cells. Here, we have generated models of rhabdomyosarcoma in the zebrafish by inducing oncogenic KRAS(G12D) expression at different stages during muscle development. Several zebrafish promoters were used, including the cdh15 and rag2 promoters, which drive gene expression in early muscle progenitors, and the mylz2 promoter, which is expressed in differentiating myoblasts. The tumors that developed differed in their ability to recapitulate normal myogenesis. cdh15:KRAS(G12D) and rag2:KRAS(G12D) fish developed tumors that displayed an inability to complete muscle differentiation as determined by histological appearance and gene expression analyses. By contrast, mylz2:KRAS(G12D) tumors more closely resembled mature skeletal muscle and were most similar to well-differentiated human rhabdomyosarcoma in terms of gene expression. mylz2:KRAS(G12D) fish showed significantly improved survival compared with cdh15:KRAS(G12D) and rag2:KRAS(G12D) fish. Tumor-propagating activity was enriched in myf5-expressing cell populations within all of the tumor types. Our results demonstrate that oncogenic KRAS(G12D) expression at different stages during muscle development has profound effects on the ability of tumor cells to recapitulate normal myogenesis, altering the tumorigenic capability of these cells.

Cross-species Array Comparative Genomic Hybridization Identifies Novel Oncogenic Events in Zebrafish and Human Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma

Human cancer genomes are highly complex, making it challenging to identify specific drivers of cancer growth, progression, and tumor maintenance. To bypass this obstacle, we have applied array comparative genomic hybridization (array CGH) to zebrafish embryonal rhabdomyosaroma (ERMS) and utilized cross-species comparison to rapidly identify genomic copy number aberrations and novel candidate oncogenes in human disease. Zebrafish ERMS contain small, focal regions of low-copy amplification. These same regions were commonly amplified in human disease. For example, 16 of 19 chromosomal gains identified in zebrafish ERMS also exhibited focal, low-copy gains in human disease. Genes found in amplified genomic regions were assessed for functional roles in promoting continued tumor growth in human and zebrafish ERMS--identifying critical genes associated with tumor maintenance. Knockdown studies identified important roles for Cyclin D2 (CCND2), Homeobox Protein C6 (HOXC6) and PlexinA1 (PLXNA1) in human ERMS cell proliferation. PLXNA1 knockdown also enhanced differentiation, reduced migration, and altered anchorage-independent growth. By contrast, chemical inhibition of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) signaling reduced angiogenesis and tumor size in ERMS-bearing zebrafish. Importantly, VEGFA expression correlated with poor clinical outcome in patients with ERMS, implicating inhibitors of the VEGF pathway as a promising therapy for improving patient survival. Our results demonstrate the utility of array CGH and cross-species comparisons to identify candidate oncogenes essential for the pathogenesis of human cancer.

Pten Regulates Zebrafish Hematopoiesis

In this issue of Blood, Choorapoikayil et al have used phosphatase and tensin homolog (Pten)–deficient zebrafish to uncover prominent roles for Pten loss in enhancing proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) and eliciting differentiation arrest within lineage-committed blood progenitor cells. These results provide novel insights into the early genetic events that predispose blood cells to malignant transformation.

Clonal Evolution Enhances Leukemia-propagating Cell Frequency in T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia Through Akt/mTORC1 Pathway Activation

Clonal evolution and intratumoral heterogeneity drive cancer progression through unknown molecular mechanisms. To address this issue, functional differences between single T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) clones were assessed using a zebrafish transgenic model. Functional variation was observed within individual clones, with a minority of clones enhancing growth rate and leukemia-propagating potential with time. Akt pathway activation was acquired in a subset of these evolved clones, which increased the number of leukemia-propagating cells through activating mTORC1, elevated growth rate likely by stabilizing the Myc protein, and rendered cells resistant to dexamethasone, which was reversed by combined treatment with an Akt inhibitor. Thus, T-ALL clones spontaneously and continuously evolve to drive leukemia progression even in the absence of therapy-induced selection.

Loss of Function Tp53 Mutations Do Not Accelerate the Onset of Myc-induced T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in the Zebrafish

The TP53 tumour suppressor is activated in response to distinct stimuli, including an ARF-dependent response to oncogene stress and an ATM/ATR-dependent response to DNA damage. In human T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL), TP53-dependent tumour suppression is typically disabled via biallelic ARF deletions. In murine models, loss of Arf (Cdkn2a) or Tp53 markedly accelerates the onset of Myc-induced lymphoblastic malignancies. In zebrafish, no ARF ortholog has been identified, but the sequence of ARF is very poorly conserved evolutionarily, making it difficult to exclude the presence of a zebrafish ARF ortholog without functional studies. Here we show that tp53 mutations have no significant influence on the onset of myc-induced T-ALL in zebrafish, consistent with the lack of additional effects of Tp53 loss on lymphomagenesis in Arf-deficient mice. By contrast, irradiation leads to complete T-ALL regression in tp53 wild-type but not homozygous mutant zebrafish, indicating that the tp53-dependent DNA damage response is intact. We conclude that tp53 inactivation has no impact on the onset of myc-induced T-ALL in the zebrafish, consistent with the lack of a functional ARF ortholog linking myc-induced oncogene stress to tp53-dependent tumour suppression. Thus, the zebrafish model is well suited to the study of ARF-independent pathways in T-ALL pathobiology.

Glycogen Synthase Kinase 3 Inhibitors Induce the Canonical WNT/β-catenin Pathway to Suppress Growth and Self-renewal in Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma

Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) is a common pediatric malignancy of muscle, with relapse being the major clinical challenge. Self-renewing tumor-propagating cells (TPCs) drive cancer relapse and are confined to a molecularly definable subset of ERMS cells. To identify drugs that suppress ERMS self-renewal and induce differentiation of TPCs, a large-scale chemical screen was completed. Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) inhibitors were identified as potent suppressors of ERMS growth through inhibiting proliferation and inducing terminal differentiation of TPCs into myosin-expressing cells. In support of GSK3 inhibitors functioning through activation of the canonical WNT/β-catenin pathway, recombinant WNT3A and stabilized β-catenin also enhanced terminal differentiation of human ERMS cells. Treatment of ERMS-bearing zebrafish with GSK3 inhibitors activated the WNT/β-catenin pathway, resulting in suppressed ERMS growth, depleted TPCs, and diminished self-renewal capacity in vivo. Activation of the canonical WNT/β-catenin pathway also significantly reduced self-renewal of human ERMS, indicating a conserved function for this pathway in modulating ERMS self-renewal. In total, we have identified an unconventional tumor suppressive role for the canonical WNT/β-catenin pathway in regulating self-renewal of ERMS and revealed therapeutic strategies to target differentiation of TPCs in ERMS.

Zebrafish As a Model to Assess Cancer Heterogeneity, Progression and Relapse

Clonal evolution is the process by which genetic and epigenetic diversity is created within malignant tumor cells. This process culminates in a heterogeneous tumor, consisting of multiple subpopulations of cancer cells that often do not contain the same underlying mutations. Continuous selective pressure permits outgrowth of clones that harbor lesions that are capable of enhancing disease progression, including those that contribute to therapy resistance, metastasis and relapse. Clonal evolution and the resulting intratumoral heterogeneity pose a substantial challenge to biomarker identification, personalized cancer therapies and the discovery of underlying driver mutations in cancer. The purpose of this Review is to highlight the unique strengths of zebrafish cancer models in assessing the roles that intratumoral heterogeneity and clonal evolution play in cancer, including transgenesis, imaging technologies, high-throughput cell transplantation approaches and in vivo single-cell functional assays.

Lineage of Origin in Rhabdomyosarcoma Informs Pharmacological Response

Lineage or cell of origin of cancers is often unknown and thus is not a consideration in therapeutic approaches. Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (aRMS) is an aggressive childhood cancer for which the cell of origin remains debated. We used conditional genetic mouse models of aRMS to activate the pathognomonic Pax3:Foxo1 fusion oncogene and inactivate p53 in several stages of prenatal and postnatal muscle development. We reveal that lineage of origin significantly influences tumor histomorphology and sensitivity to targeted therapeutics. Furthermore, we uncovered differential transcriptional regulation of the Pax3:Foxo1 locus by tumor lineage of origin, which led us to identify the histone deacetylase inhibitor entinostat as a pharmacological agent for the potential conversion of Pax3:Foxo1-positive aRMS to a state akin to fusion-negative RMS through direct transcriptional suppression of Pax3:Foxo1.

Optimized Cell Transplantation Using Adult Rag2 Mutant Zebrafish

Cell transplantation into adult zebrafish has lagged behind mouse models owing to the lack of immunocompromised strains. Here we have created rag2(E450fs) mutant zebrafish that have reduced numbers of functional T and B cells but are viable and fecund. Mutant fish engraft muscle, blood stem cells and various cancers. rag2(E450fs) mutant zebrafish are the first immunocompromised zebrafish model that permits robust, long-term engraftment of multiple tissues and cancer.

Rhabdomyosarcoma: Current Challenges and Their Implications for Developing Therapies

Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) represents a rare, heterogeneous group of mesodermal malignancies with skeletal muscle differentiation. One major subgroup of RMS tumors (so-called "fusion-positive" tumors) carries exclusive chromosomal translocations that join the DNA-binding domain of the PAX3 or PAX7 gene to the transactivation domain of the FOXO1 (previously known as FKHR) gene. Fusion-negative RMS represents a heterogeneous spectrum of tumors with frequent RAS pathway activation. Overtly metastatic disease at diagnosis is more frequently found in individuals with fusion-positive than in those with fusion-negative tumors. RMS is the most common pediatric soft-tissue sarcoma, and approximately 60% of all children and adolescents diagnosed with RMS are cured by currently available multimodal therapies. However, a curative outcome is achieved in <30% of high-risk individuals with RMS, including all those diagnosed as adults, those diagnosed with fusion-positive tumors during childhood (including metastatic and nonmetastatic tumors), and those diagnosed with metastatic disease during childhood (including fusion-positive and fusion-negative tumors). This white paper outlines current challenges in RMS research and their implications for developing more effective therapies. Urgent clinical problems include local control, systemic disease, need for improved risk stratification, and characterization of differences in disease course in children and adults. Biological challenges include definition of the cellular functions of PAX-FOXO1 fusion proteins, clarification of disease heterogeneity, elucidation of the cellular origins of RMS, delineation of the tumor microenvironment, and identification of means for rational selection and testing of new combination therapies. To streamline future therapeutic developments, it will be critical to improve access to fresh tumor tissue for research purposes, consider alternative trial designs to optimize early clinical testing of candidate drugs, coalesce advocacy efforts to garner public and industry support, and facilitate collaborative efforts between academia and industry.

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