Whole mount in situ hybridization is one of the most widely used techniques in developmental biology. Here, we present a high-resolution double fluorescent in situ hybridization protocol for analyzing the precise expression pattern of a single gene and for determining the overlap of the expression domains of two genes. The protocol is a modified version of the standard in situ hybridization using alkaline phosphatase and substrates such as NBT/BCIP and Fast Red 1,2. This protocol utilizes standard digoxygenin and fluorescein labeled probes along with tyramide signal amplification (TSA) 3. The commercially available TSA kits allow flexible experimental design as fluorescence emission from green to far-red can be used in combination with various nuclear stains, such as propidium iodide, or fluorescence immunohistochemistry for proteins. TSA produces a reactive fluorescent substrate that quickly covalently binds to moieties, typically tyrosine residues, in the immediate vicinity of the labeled antisense riboprobe. The resulting staining patterns are high resolution in that subcellular localization of the mRNA can be observed using laser scanning confocal microscopy 3,4. One can observe nascent transcripts at the chromosomal loci, distinguish nuclear and cytoplasmic staining and visualize other patterns such as cortical localization of mRNA. Studies in Drosophila indicate that roughly 70% of mRNAs exhibit specific patterns of subcellular localization that frequently correlate with the function of the encoded protein 5. When combined with computer-aided reconstruction of 3D confocal datasets, our protocol allows the detailed analysis of mRNA distribution with sub-cellular resolution in whole vertebrate embryos.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Generation of Dispersed Presomitic Mesoderm Cell Cultures for Imaging of the Zebrafish Segmentation Clock in Single Cells
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.
Segmentation is a periodic and sequential morphogenetic process in vertebrates. This rhythmic formation of blocks of tissue called somites along the body axis is evidence of a genetic oscillator patterning the developing embryo. In zebrafish, the intracellular clock driving segmentation is comprised of members of the Her/Hes transcription factor family organized into negative feedback loops. We have recently generated transgenic fluorescent reporter lines for the cyclic gene her1
that recapitulate the spatio-temporal pattern of oscillations in the presomitic mesoderm (PSM). Using these lines, we developed an in vitro
culture system that allows real-time analysis of segmentation clock oscillations within single, isolated PSM cells. By removing PSM tissue from transgenic embryos and then dispersing cells from oscillating regions onto glass-bottom dishes, we generated cultures suitable for time-lapse imaging of fluorescence signal from individual clock cells. This approach provides an experimental and conceptual framework for direct manipulation of the segmentation clock with unprecedented single-cell resolution, allowing its cell-autonomous and tissue-level properties to be distinguished and dissected.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, Zebrafish, Primary Cell Culture, Biological Clocks, Somitogenesis, Oscillator, In Vitro, Time-lapse Imaging, Primary Culture, Fluorescence
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
Production of Xenopus tropicalis Egg Extracts to Identify Microtubule-associated RNAs
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School.
Many organisms localize mRNAs to specific subcellular destinations to spatially and temporally control gene expression. Recent studies have demonstrated that the majority of the transcriptome is localized to a nonrandom position in cells and embryos. One approach to identify localized mRNAs is to biochemically purify a cellular structure of interest and to identify all associated transcripts. Using recently developed high-throughput sequencing technologies it is now straightforward to identify all RNAs associated with a subcellular structure. To facilitate transcript identification it is necessary to work with an organism with a fully sequenced genome. One attractive system for the biochemical purification of subcellular structures are egg extracts produced from the frog Xenopus laevis.
However, X. laevis
currently does not have a fully sequenced genome, which hampers transcript identification. In this article we describe a method to produce egg extracts from a related frog, X. tropicalis,
that has a fully sequenced genome. We provide details for microtubule polymerization, purification and transcript isolation. While this article describes a specific method for identification of microtubule-associated transcripts, we believe that it will be easily applied to other subcellular structures and will provide a powerful method for identification of localized RNAs.
Molecular Biology, Issue 76, Genetics, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Bioengineering, Cellular Biology, RNA, Messenger, Stored, RNA Processing, Post-Transcriptional, Xenopus, microtubules, egg extract, purification, RNA localization, mRNA, Xenopus tropicalis, eggs, animal model
Facial Transplants in Xenopus laevis Embryos
Institutions: Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Commonwealth University.
Craniofacial birth defects occur in 1 out of every 700 live births, but etiology is rarely known due to limited understanding of craniofacial development. To identify where signaling pathways and tissues act during patterning of the developing face, a 'face transplant' technique has been developed in embryos of the frog Xenopus laevis
. A region of presumptive facial tissue (the "Extreme Anterior Domain" (EAD)) is removed from a donor embryo at tailbud stage, and transplanted to a host embryo of the same stage, from which the equivalent region has been removed. This can be used to generate a chimeric face where the host or donor tissue has a loss or gain of function in a gene, and/or includes a lineage label. After healing, the outcome of development is monitored, and indicates roles of the signaling pathway within the donor or surrounding host tissues. Xenopus
is a valuable model for face development, as the facial region is large and readily accessible for micromanipulation. Many embryos can be assayed, over a short time period since development occurs rapidly. Findings in the frog are relevant to human development, since craniofacial processes appear conserved between Xenopus
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, craniofacial development, neural crest, Mouth, Nostril, transplantation, Xenopus
Dissection and Lateral Mounting of Zebrafish Embryos: Analysis of Spinal Cord Development
Institutions: Skidmore College.
The zebrafish spinal cord is an effective investigative model for nervous system research for several reasons. First, genetic, transgenic and gene knockdown approaches can be utilized to examine the molecular mechanisms underlying nervous system development. Second, large clutches of developmentally synchronized embryos provide large experimental sample sizes. Third, the optical clarity of the zebrafish embryo permits researchers to visualize progenitor, glial, and neuronal populations. Although zebrafish embryos are transparent, specimen thickness can impede effective microscopic visualization. One reason for this is the tandem development of the spinal cord and overlying somite tissue. Another reason is the large yolk ball, which is still present during periods of early neurogenesis. In this article, we demonstrate microdissection and removal of the yolk in fixed embryos, which allows microscopic visualization while preserving surrounding somite tissue. We also demonstrate semipermanent mounting of zebrafish embryos. This permits observation of neurodevelopment in the dorso-ventral and anterior-posterior axes, as it preserves the three-dimensionality of the tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Spinal Cord, Zebrafish, Microscopy, Confocal, Embryonic Development, Nervous System, dissection and mounting, mounting embryos, dissecting embryos
Mouse Embryonic Development in a Serum-free Whole Embryo Culture System
Institutions: University of Georgia, University of Georgia.
Mid-gestation stage mouse embryos were cultured utilizing a serum-free culture medium prepared from commercially available stem cell media supplements in an oxygenated rolling bottle culture system. Mouse embryos at E10.5 were carefully isolated from the uterus with intact yolk sac and in a process involving precise surgical maneuver the embryos were gently exteriorized from the yolk sac while maintaining the vascular continuity of the embryo with the yolk sac. Compared to embryos prepared with intact yolk sac or with the yolk sac removed, these embryos exhibited superior survival rate and developmental progression when cultured under similar conditions. We show that these mouse embryos, when cultured in a defined medium in an atmosphere of 95% O2
/ 5% CO2
in a rolling bottle culture apparatus at 37 °C for 16-40 hr, exhibit morphological growth and development comparable to the embryos developing in utero
. We believe this method will be useful for investigators needing to utilize whole embryo culture to study signaling interactions important in embryonic organogenesis.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, mouse embryo, mid-gestation, serum-free, defined media, roller culture, organogenesis, development
Dissection of Xenopus laevis Neural Crest for in vitro Explant Culture or in vivo Transplantation
Institutions: Centre Universitaire, Centre Universitaire, Centre Universitaire, Centre Universitaire.
The neural crest (NC) is a transient dorsal neural tube cell population that undergoes an epithelium-to-mesenchyme transition (EMT) at the end of neurulation, migrates extensively towards various organs, and differentiates into many types of derivatives (neurons, glia, cartilage and bone, pigmented and endocrine cells). In this protocol, we describe how to dissect the premigratory cranial NC from Xenopus laevis
embryos, in order to study NC development in vivo
and in vitro
. The frog model offers many advantages to study early development; abundant batches are available, embryos develop rapidly, in vivo
gain and loss of function strategies allow manipulation of gene expression prior to NC dissection in donor and/or host embryos. The NC explants can be plated on fibronectin and used for in vitro
studies. They can be cultured for several days in a serum-free defined medium. We also describe how to graft NC explants back into host embryos for studying NC migration and differentiation in vivo
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, Neural crest, Xenopus laevis, embryo, dissection, graft, fibronectin
Reconstitution Of β-catenin Degradation In Xenopus Egg Extract
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
egg extract is a well-characterized, robust system for studying the biochemistry of diverse cellular processes. Xenopus
egg extract has been used to study protein turnover in many cellular contexts, including the cell cycle and signal transduction pathways1-3
. Herein, a method is described for isolating Xenopus
egg extract that has been optimized to promote the degradation of the critical Wnt pathway component, β-catenin. Two different methods are described to assess β-catenin protein degradation in Xenopus
egg extract. One method is visually informative ([35
S]-radiolabeled proteins), while the other is more readily scaled for high-throughput assays (firefly luciferase-tagged fusion proteins). The techniques described can be used to, but are not limited to, assess β-catenin protein turnover and identify molecular components contributing to its turnover. Additionally, the ability to purify large volumes of homogenous Xenopus
egg extract combined with the quantitative and facile readout of luciferase-tagged proteins allows this system to be easily adapted for high-throughput screening for modulators of β-catenin degradation.
Molecular Biology, Issue 88, Xenopus laevis, Xenopus egg extracts, protein degradation, radiolabel, luciferase, autoradiography, high-throughput screening
Flat Mount Preparation for Observation and Analysis of Zebrafish Embryo Specimens Stained by Whole Mount In situ Hybridization
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish embryo is now commonly used for basic and biomedical research to investigate the genetic control of developmental processes and to model congenital abnormalities. During the first day of life, the zebrafish embryo progresses through many developmental stages including fertilization, cleavage, gastrulation, segmentation, and the organogenesis of structures such as the kidney, heart, and central nervous system. The anatomy of a young zebrafish embryo presents several challenges for the visualization and analysis of the tissues involved in many of these events because the embryo develops in association with a round yolk mass. Thus, for accurate analysis and imaging of experimental phenotypes in fixed embryonic specimens between the tailbud and 20 somite stage (10 and 19 hours post fertilization (hpf), respectively), such as those stained using whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), it is often desirable to remove the embryo from the yolk ball and to position it flat on a glass slide. However, performing a flat mount procedure can be tedious. Therefore, successful and efficient flat mount preparation is greatly facilitated through the visual demonstration of the dissection technique, and also helped by using reagents that assist in optimal tissue handling. Here, we provide our WISH protocol for one or two-color detection of gene expression in the zebrafish embryo, and demonstrate how the flat mounting procedure can be performed on this example of a stained fixed specimen. This flat mounting protocol is broadly applicable to the study of many embryonic structures that emerge during early zebrafish development, and can be implemented in conjunction with other staining methods performed on fixed embryo samples.
Developmental Biology, Issue 89, animals, vertebrates, fishes, zebrafish, growth and development, morphogenesis, embryonic and fetal development, organogenesis, natural science disciplines, embryo, whole mount in situ hybridization, flat mount, deyolking, imaging
A Simple Behavioral Assay for Testing Visual Function in Xenopus laevis
Institutions: Center for Vision Research, SUNY Eye Institute, Upstate Medical University.
Measurement of the visual function in the tadpoles of the frog, Xenopus laevis
, allows screening for blindness in live animals. The optokinetic response is a vision-based, reflexive behavior that has been observed in all vertebrates tested. Tadpole eyes are small so the tail flip response was used as alternative measure, which requires a trained technician to record the subtle response. We developed an alternative behavior assay based on the fact that tadpoles prefer to swim on the white side of a tank when placed in a tank with both black and white sides. The assay presented here is an inexpensive, simple alternative that creates a response that is easily measured. The setup consists of a tripod, webcam and nested testing tanks, readily available in most Xenopus
laboratories. This article includes a movie showing the behavior of tadpoles, before and after severing the optic nerve. In order to test the function of one eye, we also include representative results of a tadpole in which each eye underwent retinal axotomy on consecutive days. Future studies could develop an automated version of this assay for testing the vision of many tadpoles at once.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, eye, retina, vision, color preference, Xenopus laevis, behavior, light, guidance, visual assay
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a
Analysis of Gene Function and Visualization of Cilia-Generated Fluid Flow in Kupffer's Vesicle
Institutions: Upstate Medical University, University of Utah .
Internal organs such as the heart, brain, and gut develop left-right (LR) asymmetries that are critical for their normal functions1
. Motile cilia are involved in establishing LR asymmetry in vertebrate embryos, including mouse, frog, and zebrafish2-6
. These 'LR cilia' generate asymmetric fluid flow that is necessary to trigger a conserved asymmetric Nodal (TGF-β superfamily) signaling cascade in the left lateral plate mesoderm, which is thought to provide LR patterning information for developing organs7
. Thus, to understand mechanisms underlying LR patterning, it is essential to identify genes that regulate the organization of LR ciliated cells, the motility and length of LR cilia and their ability to generate robust asymmetric flow.
In the zebrafish embryo, LR cilia are located in Kupffer's vesicle (KV)2,4,5
. KV is comprised of a single layer of monociliated epithelial cells that enclose a fluid-filled lumen. Fate mapping has shown that KV is derived from a group of ~20-30 cells known as dorsal forerunner cells (DFCs) that migrate at the dorsal blastoderm margin during epiboly stages8,9
. During early somite stages, DFCs cluster and differentiate into ciliated epithelial cells to form KV in the tailbud of the embryo10,11
. The ability to identify and track DFCs—in combination with optical transparency and rapid development of the zebrafish embryo—make zebrafish KV an excellent model system to study LR ciliated cells.
Interestingly, progenitors of the DFC/KV cell lineage retain cytoplasmic bridges between the yolk cell up to 4 hr post-fertilization (hpf), whereas cytoplasmic bridges between the yolk cell and other embryonic cells close after 2 hpf8
. Taking advantage of these cytoplasmic bridges, we developed a stage-specific injection strategy to deliver morpholino oligonucleotides (MO) exclusively to DFCs and knockdown the function of a targeted gene in these cells12
. This technique creates chimeric embryos in which gene function is knocked down in the DFC/KV lineage developing in the context of a wild-type embryo. To analyze asymmetric fluid flow in KV, we inject fluorescent microbeads into the KV lumen and record bead movement using videomicroscopy2
. Fluid flow is easily visualized and can be quantified by tracking bead displacement over time.
Here, using the stage-specific DFC-targeted gene knockdown technique and injection of fluorescent microbeads into KV to visualize flow, we present a protocol that provides an effective approach to characterize the role of a particular gene during KV development and function.
Developmental Biology, Issue 73, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biophysics, Anatomy, Physiology, Cilia, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, Gene Knockdown Techniques, Left-right asymmetry, cilia, Kupffer's Vesicle, morpholinos, microinjection, animal model
Blastomere Explants to Test for Cell Fate Commitment During Embryonic Development
Institutions: The George Washington University, The George Washington University.
Fate maps, constructed from lineage tracing all of the cells of an embryo, reveal which tissues descend from each cell of the embryo. Although fate maps are very useful for identifying the precursors of an organ and for elucidating the developmental path by which the descendant cells populate that organ in the normal embryo, they do not illustrate the full developmental potential of a precursor cell or identify the mechanisms by which its fate is determined. To test for cell fate commitment, one compares a cell's normal repertoire of descendants in the intact embryo (the fate map) with those expressed after an experimental manipulation. Is the cell's fate fixed (committed) regardless of the surrounding cellular environment, or is it influenced by external factors provided by its neighbors? Using the comprehensive fate maps of the Xenopus
embryo, we describe how to identify, isolate and culture single cleavage stage precursors, called blastomeres. This approach allows one to assess whether these early cells are committed to the fate they acquire in their normal environment in the intact embryo, require interactions with their neighboring cells, or can be influenced to express alternate fates if exposed to other types of signals.
Developmental Biology, Issue 71, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Biochemistry, Xenopus laevis, fate mapping, lineage tracing, cell-cell signaling, cell fate, blastomere, embryo, in situ hybridization, animal model
Production of Transgenic Xenopus laevis by Restriction Enzyme Mediated Integration and Nuclear Transplantation
Institutions: University of Manchester, Washington University School of Medicine.
Stable integration of cloned gene products into the Xenopus
genome is necessary to control the time and place of expression, to express genes at later stages of embryonic development, and to define how enhancers and promoters regulate gene expression within the embryo. The protocol demonstrated here can be used to efficiently produce transgenic Xenopus laevis
embryos. This transgenesis approach involves three parts: 1. Sperm nuclei are isolated from adult X. laevis
testis by treatment with lysolecithin, which permeabilizes the sperm plasma membrane. 2. Egg extract is prepared by low speed centrifugation, addition of calcium to cause the extract to progress to interphase of the cell cycle, and a high-speed centrifugation to isolate interphase cytosol. 3. Nuclear transplantation: the nuclei and extract are combined with the linearized plasmid DNA to be introduced as the transgene and a small amount of restriction enzyme. During a short reaction, egg extract partially decondenses the sperm chromatin and the restriction enzyme generates chromosomal breaks that promote recombination of the transgene into the genome. The treated sperm nuclei are then transplanted into unfertilized eggs. Integration of the transgene usually occurs prior to the first embryonic cleavage such that the resulting embryos are not chimeric. These embryos can be analyzed without any need to breed to the next generation, allowing for efficient and rapid generation of transgenic embryos for analyses of promoter and gene function. Adult X. laevis
resulting from this procedure also propagate the transgene through the germline and can be used to generate lines of transgenic animals for multiple purposes.
Developmental Biology, Issue 42, transgenic, embryo, Xenopus, transgenesis, nuclear transplantation
Adult and Embryonic Skeletal Muscle Microexplant Culture and Isolation of Skeletal Muscle Stem Cells
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Cultured embryonic and adult skeletal muscle cells have a number of different uses. The micro-dissected explants technique described in this chapter is a robust and reliable method for isolating relatively large numbers of proliferative skeletal muscle cells from juvenile, adult or embryonic muscles as a source of skeletal muscle stem cells. The authors have used micro-dissected explant cultures to analyse the growth characteristics of skeletal muscle cells in wild-type and dystrophic muscles. Each of the components of tissue growth, namely cell survival, proliferation, senescence and differentiation can be analysed separately using the methods described here. The net effect of all components of growth can be established by means of measuring explant outgrowth rates. The micro-explant method can be used to establish primary cultures from a wide range of different muscle types and ages and, as described here, has been adapted by the authors to enable the isolation of embryonic skeletal muscle precursors.
Uniquely, micro-explant cultures have been used to derive clonal (single cell origin) skeletal muscle stem cell (SMSc) lines which can be expanded and used for in vivo
transplantation. In vivo
transplanted SMSc behave as functional, tissue-specific, satellite cells which contribute to skeletal muscle fibre regeneration but which are also retained (in the satellite cell niche) as a small pool of undifferentiated stem cells which can be re-isolated into culture using the micro-explant method.
Cellular Biology, Issue 43, Skeletal muscle stem cell, embryonic tissue culture, apoptosis, growth factor, proliferation, myoblast, myogenesis, satellite cell, skeletal muscle differentiation, muscular dystrophy
Using Whole Mount in situ Hybridization to Link Molecular and Organismal Biology
Institutions: Syracuse University, Syracuse University.
Whole mount in situ
hybridization (WISH) is a common technique in molecular biology laboratories used to study gene expression through the localization of specific mRNA transcripts within whole mount specimen. This technique (adapted from Albertson and Yelick, 2005) was used in an upper level undergraduate Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom at Syracuse University. The first two thirds of the Comparative Vertebrate Biology lab course gave students the opportunity to study the embryology and gross anatomy of several organisms representing various chordate taxa primarily via traditional dissections and the use of models. The final portion of the course involved an innovative approach to teaching anatomy through observation of vertebrate development employing molecular techniques in which WISH was performed on zebrafish embryos. A heterozygous fibroblast growth factor 8 a (fgf8a
) mutant line, ace
, was used. Due to Mendelian inheritance, ace intercrosses produced wild type, heterozygous, and homozygous ace/fgf8a
mutants in a 1:2:1 ratio. RNA probes with known expression patterns in the midline and in developing anatomical structures such as the heart, somites, tailbud, myotome, and brain were used. WISH was performed using zebrafish at the 13 somite and prim-6 stages, with students performing the staining reaction in class. The study of zebrafish embryos at different stages of development gave students the ability to observe how these anatomical structures changed over ontogeny. In addition, some ace/fgf8a
mutants displayed improper heart looping, and defects in somite and brain development. The students in this lab observed the normal development of various organ systems using both external anatomy as well as gene expression patterns. They also identified and described embryos displaying improper anatomical development and gene expression (i.e., putative mutants).
For instructors at institutions that do not already own the necessary equipment or where funds for lab and curricular innovation are limited, the financial cost of the reagents and apparatus may be a factor to consider, as will the time and effort required on the part of the instructor regardless of the setting. Nevertheless, we contend that the use of WISH in this type of classroom laboratory setting can provide an important link between developmental genetics and anatomy. As technology advances and the ability to study organismal development at the molecular level becomes easier, cheaper, and increasingly popular, many evolutionary biologists, ecologists, and physiologists are turning to research strategies in the field of molecular biology. Using WISH in a Comparative Vertebrate Biology laboratory classroom is one example of how molecules and anatomy can converge within a single course. This gives upper level college students the opportunity to practice modern biological research techniques, leading to a more diversified education and the promotion of future interdisciplinary scientific research.
Developmental Biology, Issue 49, in situ hybridization, genetics, development, anatomy, vertebrate, undergraduate, education, interdisciplinary
Chromatin Immunoprecipitation Assay for Tissue-specific Genes using Early-stage Mouse Embryos
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is a powerful tool to identify protein:chromatin interactions that occur in the context of living cells 1-3
. This technique has been widely exploited in tissue culture cells, and to a lesser extent, in primary tissue. The application of ChIP to rodent embryonic tissue, especially at early times of development, is complicated by the limited amount of tissue and the heterogeneity of cell and tissue types in the embryo. Here we present a method to perform ChIP using a dissociated embryonic day 8.5 (E8.5) embryo. Sheared chromatin from a single E8.5 embryo can be divided into up to five aliquots, which allows the investigator sufficient material for controls and for investigation of specific protein:chromatin interactions.
We have utilized this technique to begin to document protein:chromatin interactions during the specification of tissue-specific gene expression programs. The heterogeneity of cell types in an embryo necessarily restricts the application of this technique because the result is the detection of protein:chromatin interactions without distinguishing whether the interactions occur in all, a subset of, or a single cell type(s). However, examination of tissue-specific genes during or following the onset of tissue-specific gene expression is feasible for two reasons. First, immunoprecipitation of tissue specific factors necessarily isolates chromatin from the cell type where the factor is expressed. Second, immunoprecipitation of coactivators and histones containing post-translational modifications that are associated with gene activation should only be found at genes and gene regulatory sequences in the cell type where the gene is being or has been activated. The technique should be applicable to the study of most tissue-specific gene activation events.
In the example described below, we utilized E8.5 and E9.5 mouse embryos to examine factor binding at a skeletal muscle specific gene promoter. Somites, which are the precursor tissues from which the skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs will form, are present at E8.5-9.54,5
. Myogenin is a regulatory factor required for skeletal muscle differentiation 6-9
. The data demonstrate that myogenin is associated with its own promoter in E8.5 and E9.5 embryos. Because myogenin is only expressed in somites at this stage of development 6,10
, the data indicate that myogenin interactions with its own promoter have already occurred in skeletal muscle precursor cells in E8.5 embryos.
Developmental Biology, Issue 50, Myogenesis, Chromatin, Gene Regulation, Chromatin Immunoprecipitation, Embryo, Mouse
Assessing Teratogenic Changes in a Zebrafish Model of Fetal Alcohol Exposure
Institutions: Children's Memorial Research Center, Northwestern University.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a severe manifestation of embryonic exposure to ethanol. It presents with characteristic defects to the face and organs, including mental retardation due to disordered and damaged brain development. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is a term used to cover a continuum of birth defects that occur due to maternal alcohol consumption, and occurs in approximately 4% of children born in the United States. With 50% of child-bearing age women reporting consumption of alcohol, and half of all pregnancies being unplanned, unintentional exposure is a continuing issue2
. In order to best understand the damage produced by ethanol, plus produce a model with which to test potential interventions, we developed a model of developmental ethanol exposure using the zebrafish embryo. Zebrafish are ideal for this kind of teratogen study3-8
. Each pair lays hundreds of eggs, which can then be collected without harming the adult fish. The zebrafish embryo is transparent and can be readily imaged with any number of stains. Analysis of these embryos after exposure to ethanol at different doses and times of duration and application shows that the gross developmental defects produced by ethanol are consistent with the human birth defect. Described here are the basic techniques used to study and manipulate the zebrafish FAS model.
Medicine, Issue 61, Zebrafish, fetal alcohol exposure, Danio rerio, development, mRNA expression, morpholino, ethanol exposure
Isolation and Culture of Neural Crest Cells from Embryonic Murine Neural Tube
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The embryonic neural crest (NC) is a multipotent progenitor population that originates at the dorsal aspect of the neural tube, undergoes an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) and migrates throughout the embryo, giving rise to diverse cell types 1-3
. NC also has the unique ability to influence the differentiation and maturation of target organs4-6
. When explanted in vitro
, NC progenitors undergo self-renewal, migrate and differentiate into a variety of tissue types including neurons, glia, smooth muscle cells, cartilage and bone.
NC multipotency was first described from explants of the avian neural tube7-9
. In vitro
isolation of NC cells facilitates the study of NC dynamics including proliferation, migration, and multipotency. Further work in the avian and rat systems demonstrated that explanted NC cells retain their NC potential when transplanted back into the embryo10-13
. Because these inherent cellular properties are preserved in explanted NC progenitors, the neural tube explant assay provides an attractive option for studying the NC in vitro
To attain a better understanding of the mammalian NC, many methods have been employed to isolate NC populations. NC-derived progenitors can be cultured from post-migratory locations in both the embryo and adult to study the dynamics of post-migratory NC progenitors11,14-20
, however isolation of NC progenitors as they emigrate from the neural tube provides optimal preservation of NC cell potential and migratory properties13,21,22
. Some protocols employ fluorescence activated cell sorting (FACS) to isolate a NC population enriched for particular progenitors11,13,14,17
. However, when starting with early stage embryos, cell numbers adequate for analyses are difficult to obtain with FACS, complicating the isolation of early NC populations from individual embryos. Here, we describe an approach that does not rely on FACS and results in an approximately 96% pure NC population based on a Wnt1-Cre
activated lineage reporter23
The method presented here is adapted from protocols optimized for the culture of rat NC11,13
. The advantages of this protocol compared to previous methods are that 1) the cells are not grown on a feeder layer, 2) FACS is not required to obtain a relatively pure NC population, 3) premigratory NC cells are isolated and 4) results are easily quantified. Furthermore, this protocol can be used for isolation of NC from any mutant mouse model, facilitating the study of NC characteristics with different genetic manipulations. The limitation of this approach is that the NC is removed from the context of the embryo, which is known to influence the survival, migration and differentiation of the NC2,24-28
Neuroscience, Issue 64, Developmental Biology, neural crest, explant, cell culture, mouse, embryo
Neural Explant Cultures from Xenopus laevis
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
The complex process of axon guidance is largely driven by the growth cone, which is the dynamic motile structure at the tip of the growing axon. During axon outgrowth, the growth cone must integrate multiple sources of guidance cue information to modulate its cytoskeleton in order to propel the growth cone forward and accurately navigate to find its specific targets1
. How this integration occurs at the cytoskeletal level is still emerging, and examination of cytoskeletal protein and effector dynamics within the growth cone can allow the elucidation of these mechanisms. Xenopus laevis
growth cones are large enough (10-30 microns in diameter) to perform high-resolution live imaging of cytoskeletal dynamics (e.g.2-4
) and are easy to isolate and manipulate in a lab setting compared to other vertebrates. The frog is a classic model system for developmental neurobiology studies, and important early insights into growth cone microtubule dynamics were initially found using this system5-7
. In this method8
, eggs are collected and fertilized in vitro
, injected with RNA encoding fluorescently tagged cytoskeletal fusion proteins or other constructs to manipulate gene expression, and then allowed to develop to the neural tube stage. Neural tubes are isolated by dissection and then are cultured, and growth cones on outgrowing neurites are imaged. In this article, we describe how to perform this method, the goal of which is to culture Xenopus laevis
growth cones for subsequent high-resolution image analysis. While we provide the example of +TIP fusion protein EB1-GFP, this method can be applied to any number of proteins to elucidate their behaviors within the growth cone.
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Anatomy, Physiology, Growth cone, neural explant, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging, cytoskeletal dynamics, cell culture
Monitoring Cell-autonomous Circadian Clock Rhythms of Gene Expression Using Luciferase Bioluminescence Reporters
Institutions: The University of Memphis.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology such as sleep-wake cycles and liver metabolism are regulated by endogenous circadian clocks (reviewed1,2
). The circadian time-keeping system is a hierarchical multi-oscillator network, with the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizing and coordinating extra-SCN and peripheral clocks elsewhere1,2
. Individual cells are the functional units for generation and maintenance of circadian rhythms3,4
, and these oscillators of different tissue types in the organism share a remarkably similar biochemical negative feedback mechanism. However, due to interactions at the neuronal network level in the SCN and through rhythmic, systemic cues at the organismal level, circadian rhythms at the organismal level are not necessarily cell-autonomous5-7
. Compared to traditional studies of locomotor activity in vivo
and SCN explants ex vivo
, cell-based in vitro
assays allow for discovery of cell-autonomous circadian defects5,8
. Strategically, cell-based models are more experimentally tractable for phenotypic characterization and rapid discovery of basic clock mechanisms5,8-13
Because circadian rhythms are dynamic, longitudinal measurements with high temporal resolution are needed to assess clock function. In recent years, real-time bioluminescence recording using firefly luciferase
as a reporter has become a common technique for studying circadian rhythms in mammals14,15
, as it allows for examination of the persistence and dynamics of molecular rhythms. To monitor cell-autonomous circadian rhythms of gene expression, luciferase reporters can be introduced into cells via transient transfection13,16,17
or stable transduction5,10,18,19
. Here we describe a stable transduction protocol using lentivirus-mediated gene delivery. The lentiviral vector system is superior to traditional methods such as transient transfection and germline transmission because of its efficiency and versatility: it permits efficient delivery and stable integration into the host genome of both dividing and non-dividing cells20
. Once a reporter cell line is established, the dynamics of clock function can be examined through bioluminescence recording. We first describe the generation of P(Per2
reporter lines, and then present data from this and other circadian reporters. In these assays, 3T3 mouse fibroblasts and U2OS human osteosarcoma cells are used as cellular models. We also discuss various ways of using these clock models in circadian studies. Methods described here can be applied to a great variety of cell types to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian clocks, and may prove useful in tackling problems in other biological systems.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Circadian clock, firefly luciferase, real-time bioluminescence technology, cell-autonomous model, lentiviral vector, RNA interference (RNAi), high-throughput screening (HTS)
Laser-inflicted Injury of Zebrafish Embryonic Skeletal Muscle
Institutions: Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine.
Various experimental approaches have been used in mouse to induce muscle injury with the aim to study muscle regeneration, including myotoxin injections (bupivacaine, cardiotoxin or notexin), muscle transplantations (denervation-devascularization induced regeneration), intensive exercise, but also murine muscular dystrophy models such as the mdx
mouse (for a review of these approaches see 1
). In zebrafish, genetic approaches include mutants that exhibit muscular dystrophy phenotypes (such as runzel2
) and antisense oligonucleotide morpholinos that block the expression of dystrophy-associated genes4
. Besides, chemical approaches are also possible, e.g.
with Galanthamine, a chemical compound inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, thereby resulting in hypercontraction, which eventually leads to muscular dystrophy5
. However, genetic and pharmacological approaches generally affect all muscles within an individual, whereas the extent of physically inflicted injuries are more easily controlled spatially and temporally1
. Localized physical injury allows the assessment of contralateral muscle as an internal control. Indeed, we recently used laser-mediated cell ablation to study skeletal muscle regeneration in the zebrafish embryo6
, while another group recently reported the use of a two-photon laser (822 nm) to damage very locally the plasma membrane of individual embryonic zebrafish muscle cells7
Here, we report a method for using the micropoint laser (Andor Technology) for skeletal muscle cell injury in the zebrafish embryo. The micropoint laser is a high energy laser which is suitable for targeted cell ablation at a wavelength of 435 nm. The laser is connected to a microscope (in our setup, an optical microscope from Zeiss) in such a way that the microscope can be used at the same time for focusing the laser light onto the sample and for visualizing the effects of the wounding (brightfield or fluorescence). The parameters for controlling laser pulses include wavelength, intensity, and number of pulses.
Due to its transparency and external embryonic development, the zebrafish embryo is highly amenable for both laser-induced injury and for studying the subsequent recovery. Between 1 and 2 days post-fertilization, somitic skeletal muscle cells progressively undergo maturation from anterior to posterior due to the progression of somitogenesis from the trunk to the tail8, 9
. At these stages, embryos spontaneously twitch and initiate swimming. The zebrafish has recently been recognized as an important vertebrate model organism for the study of tissue regeneration, as many types of tissues (cardiac, neuronal, vascular etc.) can be regenerated after injury in the adult zebrafish10, 11
Developmental Biology, Issue 71, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Genetics, Zebrafish, skeletal muscle, cell ablation, injury, regeneration, damage, laser pulses, tissue, embryos, Danio rerio, animal model
Dissection, Culture, and Analysis of Xenopus laevis Embryonic Retinal Tissue
Institutions: College of William and Mary.
The process by which the anterior region of the neural plate gives rise to the vertebrate retina continues to be a major focus of both clinical and basic research. In addition to the obvious medical relevance for understanding and treating retinal disease, the development of the vertebrate retina continues to serve as an important and elegant model system for understanding neuronal cell type determination and differentiation1-16
. The neural retina consists of six discrete cell types (ganglion, amacrine, horizontal, photoreceptors, bipolar cells, and Müller glial cells) arranged in stereotypical layers, a pattern that is largely conserved among all vertebrates 12,14-18
While studying the retina in the intact developing embryo is clearly required for understanding how this complex organ develops from a protrusion of the forebrain into a layered structure, there are many questions that benefit from employing approaches using primary cell culture of presumptive retinal cells 7,19-23
. For example, analyzing cells from tissues removed and dissociated at different stages allows one to discern the state of specification of individual cells at different developmental stages, that is, the fate of the cells in the absence of interactions with neighboring tissues 8,19-22,24-33
. Primary cell culture also allows the investigator to treat the culture with specific reagents and analyze the results on a single cell level 5,8,21,24,27-30,33-39
. Xenopus laevis,
a classic model system for the study of early neural development 19,27,29,31-32,40-42
, serves as a particularly suitable system for retinal primary cell culture 10,38,43-45
Presumptive retinal tissue is accessible from the earliest stages of development, immediately following neural induction 25,38,43
. In addition, given that each cell in the embryo contains a supply of yolk, retinal cells can be cultured in a very simple defined media consisting of a buffered salt solution, thus removing the confounding effects of incubation or other sera-based products 10,24,44-45
However, the isolation of the retinal tissue from surrounding tissues and the subsequent processing is challenging. Here, we present a method for the dissection and dissociation of retinal cells in Xenopus laevis
that will be used to prepare primary cell cultures that will, in turn, be analyzed for calcium activity and gene expression at the resolution of single cells. While the topic presented in this paper is the analysis of spontaneous calcium transients, the technique is broadly applicable to a wide array of research questions and approaches (Figure 1
Developmental Biology, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Cellular Biology, Surgery, Anatomy, Physiology, Ophthalmology, retina, primary cell culture, dissection, confocal microscopy, calcium imaging, fluorescent in situ hybridization, FISH, Xenopus laevis, animal model
Quantification of Orofacial Phenotypes in Xenopus
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University.
has become an important tool for dissecting the mechanisms governing craniofacial development and defects. A method to quantify orofacial development will allow for more rigorous analysis of orofacial phenotypes upon abrogation with substances that can genetically or molecularly manipulate gene expression or protein function. Using two dimensional images of the embryonic heads, traditional size dimensions-such as orofacial width, height and area- are measured. In addition, a roundness measure of the embryonic mouth opening is used to describe the shape of the mouth. Geometric morphometrics of these two dimensional images is also performed to provide a more sophisticated view of changes in the shape of the orofacial region. Landmarks are assigned to specific points in the orofacial region and coordinates are created. A principle component analysis is used to reduce landmark coordinates to principle components that then discriminate the treatment groups. These results are displayed as a scatter plot in which individuals with similar orofacial shapes cluster together. It is also useful to perform a discriminant function analysis, which statistically compares the positions of the landmarks between two treatment groups. This analysis is displayed on a transformation grid where changes in landmark position are viewed as vectors. A grid is superimposed on these vectors so that a warping pattern is displayed to show where significant landmark positions have changed. Shape changes in the discriminant function analysis are based on a statistical measure, and therefore can be evaluated by a p-value. This analysis is simple and accessible, requiring only a stereoscope and freeware software, and thus will be a valuable research and teaching resource.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, Orofacial quantification, geometric morphometrics, Xenopus, orofacial development, orofacial defects, shape changes, facial dimensions
Single Cell Transfection in Chick Embryos
Institutions: Hadassah Medical School - Hebrew University.
A central theme in developmental biology is the diversification of lineages and the elucidation of underlying molecular mechanisms. This entails a thorough analysis of the fates of single cells under normal and experimental conditions. To this end, transfection methods that target single progenitors are a prerequisite. We describe here a technically straightforward method for transfecting single cells in chicken tissues in-ovo
, allowing reliable lineage tracing as well as genetic manipulation. Specific tissue domains are targeted within the somite or neural tube, and DNA is injected directly into the epithelium of interest, resulting in sporadic transfection of single cells. Using reporters, clonal populations may consequently be traced for up to three days, and behavior of genetically manipulated clonal populations can be compared with that of controls. This method takes advantage of the accessibility of the chick embryo along with emerging tools for genetic manipulation. We compare and discuss its advantages over the widely-used electroporation method, and possible applications and use in additional in-vivo
models are also suggested. We advocate the use of this method as a significant addition and complement for existing lineage tracing and genetic interference tools.
Developmental Biology, Issue 43, single-cell transfection, electroporation, gene miss-expression, lineage tracing, avian embryo, micro-injection, somite, neural tube