Ribosome biogenesis is an important biological process for proper cellular function and development. Defects leading to improper ribosome biogenesis can cause diseases such as Diamond-Blackfan anemia and Shwachman-Bodian-Diamond syndrome. Nucleolar proteins are a large family of proteins and are involved in many cellular processes, including the regulation of ribosome biogenesis. Through a forward genetic screen and positional cloning, we identified and characterized a zebrafish line carrying mutation in nucleolar protein with MIF4G domain 1 (nom1), which encodes a conserved nulceolar protein with a role in pre-rRNA processing. Zebrafish nom1 mutants exhibit major defects in endoderm development, especially in exocrine pancreas. Further studies revealed that impaired proliferation of ptf1a-expressing pancreatic progenitor cells mainly contributed to the phenotype. RNA-seq and molecular analysis showed that ribosome biogenesis and pre-mRNA splicing were both affected in the mutant embryos. Several defects of ribosome assembly have been shown to have a p53-dependent mechanism. In the nom1 mutant, loss of p53 did not rescue the pancreatic defect, suggesting a p53-independent role. Further studies indicate that protein phosphatase 1 alpha, an interacting protein to Nom1, could partially rescue the pancreatic defect in nom1 morphants if a human nucleolar localization signal sequence was artificially added. This suggests that targeting Pp1? into the nucleolus by Nom1 is important for pancreatic proliferation. Altogether, our studies revealed a new mechanism involving Nom1 in controlling vertebrate exocrine pancreas formation.
The primary pathological hallmark of Parkinson disease (PD) is the profound loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta. To facilitate the understanding of the underling mechanism of PD, several zebrafish PD models have been generated to recapitulate the characteristics of dopaminergic (DA) neuron loss. In zebrafish studies, tyrosine hydroxylase 1 (th1) has been frequently used as a molecular marker of DA neurons. However, th1 also labels norepinephrine and epinephrine neurons. Recently, a homologue of th1, named tyrosine hydroxylase 2 (th2), was identified based on the sequence homology and subsequently used as a novel marker of DA neurons. In this study, we present evidence that th2 co-localizes with serotonin in the ventral diencephalon and caudal hypothalamus in zebrafish embryos. In addition, knockdown of th2 reduces the level of serotonin in the corresponding th2-positive neurons. This phenotype can be rescued by both zebrafish th2 and mouse tryptophan hydroxylase 1 (Tph1) mRNA as well as by 5-hydroxytryptophan, the product of tryptophan hydroxylase. Moreover, the purified Th2 protein has tryptophan hydroxylase activity comparable with that of the mouse TPH1 protein in vitro. Based on these in vivo and in vitro results, we conclude that th2 is a gene encoding for tryptophan hydroxylase and should be used as a marker gene of serotonergic neurons.
Polo-like kinase 1 (PLK1), one of the key regulators of mitosis, is a target for cancer therapy due to its abnormally high activity in several tumors. Plk1 is highly conserved and shares a nearly identical 3-D structure between zebrafish and humans. The initial 10 mitoses of zebrafish embryonic cleavages occur every?30 minutes, and therefore provide a rapid assay to evaluate mitosis inhibitors including those targeting Plk1. To increase efficiency and specificity, we first performed a computational virtual screen of?60000 compounds against the human Plk1 3-D structure docked to both its kinase and Polo box domain. 370 candidates with the top free-energy scores were subjected to zebrafish assay and 3 were shown to inhibit cell division. Compared to general screen for compounds inhibiting zebrafish embryonic cleavage, computation increased the efficiency by 11 folds. One of the 3 compounds, named I2, was further demonstrated to effectively inhibit multiple tumor cell proliferation in vitro and PC3 prostate cancer growth in Xenograft mouse model in vivo. Furthermore, I2 inhibited Plk1 enzyme activity in a dose dependent manner. The IC50 values of I2 in these assays are compatible to those of ON-01910, a Plk1 inhibitor currently in Phase III clinic trials. Our studies demonstrate that zebrafish assays coupled with computational screening significantly improves the efficiency of identifying specific regulators of biological targets. The PLK1 inhibitor I2, and its analogs, may have potential in cancer therapeutics.
Blood vessels normally maintain stereotyped lumen diameters and their stable structures are crucial for vascular function. However, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms controlling the maintenance of vessel diameters and the integrity of endothelial cells. We investigated this issue in zebrafish embryos by a chemical genetics approach. Small molecule libraries were screened using live Tg(kdrl:GRCFP)(zn1) transgenic embryos in which endothelial cells are specifically labeled with GFP. By analyzing the effects of compounds on the morphology and function of embryonic blood vessels after lumen formation, PP1, a putative Src kinase inhibitor, was identified as capable of specifically reducing vascular lumen size by interrupting endothelial-cell integrity. The inhibitory effect is not due to Src or general VEGF signaling inhibition because another Src inhibitor and Src morpholino as well as several VEGFR inhibitors failed to produce a similar phenotype. After profiling a panel of 22 representative mammalian kinases and surveying published data, we selected a few possible new candidates. Combinational analysis of these candidate kinase inhibitors established that PP1 induced endothelial collapse by inhibiting both the VEGFR2 and MAP kinase pathways. More importantly, combinatory use of two clinically approved drugs Dasatinib and Sunitinib produced the same phenotype. This is the first study to elucidate the pathways controlling maintenance of endothelial integrity using a chemical genetics approach, indicating that endothelial integrity is controlled by the combined action of the VEGFR2 and MAP kinase pathways. Our results also suggest the possible side effect of the combination of two anticancer drugs on the circulatory system.
Functional chemicals are very useful tools for molecular biology studies. Due to its small size, large progeny clutch, and embryonic transparency, zebrafish serves as a superb in vivo animal model for chemical compound screens and characterization. During zebrafish embryogenesis, multiple developmental phenotypes can be easily examined under the microscope, therefore allowing a more comprehensive evaluation for identifying novel functional chemicals than cell-based assays. Ever since the first zebrafish-based chemical screen was conducted in the year 2000, many functional chemicals have been discovered using this strategy. In this chapter, we describe how to perform a typical zebrafish-based chemical screen and discuss the details of the protocol by using the example of the identification and characterization of two new Smo inhibitors with a Gli:GFP transgenic line.
Mutations in LRRK2 are genetically linked to Parkinsons disease (PD) but its normal biological function is largely unknown. Sheng et al. recently reported that deletion of the WD40 domain of LRRK2 in zebrafish specifically causes PD-like loss of neurons and behavior defect. However, our similar early study and recent confirming experiments using the same reagents reported by Sheng et al. failed to reproduce the phenotype of the loss of dopaminergic neurons, although the mRNA of LRRK2 was molecularly disrupted. Our study suggests that function of LRRK2 and its usefulness to generate zebrafish PD model needs further evaluation.
During the preclinical drug discovery process it remains a challenge to enable early elimination of candidate molecules that may have non-specific, off-target activities. Here, we use whole zebrafish embryo assays coupled with genetic analysis to address this issue. PLK1 (Polo-like kinase 1) is one of the key regulators that control mitotic entry, spindle assembly, chromosome segregation, and cytokinesis in the cell cycle. Since plk1 expression is abnormally up-regulated in several tumors, it is regarded as a good target for cancer therapy. A number of small-molecule inhibitors targeting PLK1 have been developed as reagents and anticancer drug candidates. It will be interesting to determine if these inhibitors indeed specifically target PLK1 in vivo. Bioinformatics analysis revealed that the zebrafish and human genomes share high homology across all PLK family members. In particular, PLK1 has a nearly identical 3-D structure between zebrafish and human. We selected three published PLK1 inhibitors, LFM-A13, ON01910, and thiazole-carboxamide 10A in our assay. When added at 2-cell stage, all of these inhibitors prevented embryos from dividing and caused cells to fuse into one large cell. When added at the later stage during zygotic mRNA transcription program initiation, embryos survived for 3 days but showed different phenotypes for each compound. Embryos treated with LFM-A13 appeared relatively normal. Embryos treated with ON01910 failed to properly develop trunk and tail regions while the head structure was unaffected. Embryos treated with thiazole-carboxamide 10A had a shorter body axis and deformed head structure. To determine which inhibitor is more selectively targeting PLK1, we inhibited PLK1 activity using anti-sense morpholino. Comparative analysis indicated that thiazole-carboxamide 10A could faithfully phenocopy zebrafish embryos genetically deficient of plk1. These findings demonstrate that these three PLK1 inhibitors, although well established by in vitro studies, have different off-target activities in vivo, and that thiazole-carboxamide 10A appears most specific to PLK1. Our studies suggest that zebrafish should be generally useful as an efficient in vivo model to evaluate specificity of small molecules designed to regulate any conserved target proteins through comparative analysis of genetic phenotypes.
Glycogen synthase kinase 3 (GSK3) is an essential component of the Wnt signaling pathway and plays important roles in regulating cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. As GSK3 is abnormally upregulated in several diseases including type II diabetes, Alzheimers disease and cancer, it has been regarded as a potential drug target. During zebrafish development, inhibition of GSK3 leads to ectopic activation of the Wnt pathway, resulting in a headless embryo. Using this phenotype as an assay we screened a chemical library of 4000 compounds and identified one novel compound, 3F8, which specifically inhibits eye and forebrain formation in zebrafish embryos, resembling a typical Wnt overexpression phenotype. Cell reporter assays, chemical informatics analysis and in vitro kinase experiments revealed that 3F8 is a selective GSK3 inhibitor, which is more potent than SB216763, a commonly used GSK3 inhibitor. Based on the structure of 3F8, a new generation of compounds inhibiting GSK3 was synthesized and validated by biological assays. Together, 3F8 and its derivatives could be useful as new reagents and potential therapeutic candidates for GSK3 related diseases.
Melanocytes are pigment cells that are closely associated with many skin disorders, such as vitiligo, piebaldism, Waardenburg syndrome, and the deadliest skin cancer, melanoma. Through studies of model organisms, the genetic regulatory network of melanocyte development during embryogenesis has been well established. This network also seems to be shared with adult melanocyte regeneration and melanoma formation. To identify chemical regulators of melanocyte development and homeostasis, we screened a small-molecule library of 6000 compounds using zebrafish embryos and identified five novel compounds that inhibited pigmentation. Here we report characterization of two compounds, 12G9 and 36E9, which disrupted melanocyte development. TUNEL assay indicated that these two compounds induced apoptosis of melanocytes. Furthermore, compound 12G9 specifically inhibited the viability of mammalian melanoma cells in vitro. These two compounds should be useful as chemical biology tools to study melanocytes and could serve as drug candidates against melanocyte-related diseases.
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