Mutation of Glass bottom boat, the Drosophila homologue of the bone morphogenetic protein or growth/differentiation factor (BMP/GDF) family of genes in vertebrates, has been shown to disrupt development of neuromuscular junctions (NMJ). Here we tested whether this same conclusion can be broadened to vertebrate BMP/GDF genes. This analysis was also extended to consider whether such genes are required for NMJ maintenance in post-larval stages, as this would argue that BMP genes are viable candidates for analysis in progressive neuromuscular disease. Zebrafish mutants harboring homozygous null mutations in the BMP-family gene gdf6a were raised to adulthood and assessed for neuromuscular deficits. Fish lacking gdf6a exhibited decreased endurance (? 50%, p = 0.005) compared to wild type, and this deficit progressively worsened with age. These fish also presented with significantly disrupted NMJ morphology (p = 0.009), and a lower abundance of spinal motor neurons (? 50%, p<0.001) compared to wild type. Noting the similarity of these symptoms to those of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) model mice and fish, we asked if mutations in gdf6a would enhance the phenotypes observed in the latter, i.e. in zebrafish over-expressing mutant Superoxide Dismutase 1 (SOD1). Amongst younger adult fish only bigenic fish harboring both the SOD1 transgene and gdf6a mutations, but not siblings with other combinations of these gene modifications, displayed significantly reduced endurance (75%, p<0.05) and strength/power (75%, p<0.05), as well as disrupted NMJ morphology (p<0.001) compared to wild type siblings. Bigenic fish also had lower survival rates compared to other genotypes. Thus conclusions regarding a role for BMP ligands in effecting NMJ can be extended to vertebrates, supporting conservation of mechanisms relevant to neuromuscular degenerative diseases. These conclusions synergize with past findings to argue for further analysis of GDF6 and other BMP genes as modifier loci, potentially affecting susceptibility to ALS and perhaps a broader suite of neurodegenerative diseases.
Functional vision restoration is within reach via stem cell therapy, but one of the largest obstacles is the derivation of colour-sensitive cone photoreceptors that are required for high-acuity daytime vision. To enhance progress made using nocturnal murine models, we instead utilize cone-rich zebrafish and herein investigate relationships between gdf6a and tbx2b in cone photoreceptor development. Growth/differentiation factor 6a (gdf6a), a bone morphogenetic protein family ligand, is an emerging factor in photoreceptor degenerative diseases. The T-box transcription factor tbx2b is required to specify UV cone photoreceptor fate instead of rod photoreceptor fate. Interactions between these factors in cone development would be unanticipated, considering the discrete phenotypes in their respective mutants. However, gdf6a positively modulates the abundance of tbx2b transcript during early eye morphogenesis, and we extended this conclusion to later stages of retinal development comprising the times when photoreceptors differentiate. Despite this, gdf6a-/- larvae possess a normal relative number of UV cones and instead present with a low abundance of blue cone photoreceptors, approximately half that of siblings (p<0.001), supporting a differential role for gdf6a amongst the spectral subtypes of cone photoreceptors. Further, gdf6a-/- larvae from breeding of compound heterozygous gdf6a+/-;tbx2b+/- mutants exhibit the recessive lots-of-rods phenotype (which also shows a paucity of UV cones) at significantly elevated rates (44% or 48% for each of two tbx2b alleles, ?2 p?0.007 for each compared to expected Mendelian 25%). Thus the gdf6a-/- background sensitizes fish such that the recessive lots-of-rods phenotype can appear in heterozygous tbx2b+/- fish. Overall, this work establishes a novel link between tbx2b and gdf6a in determining photoreceptor fates, defining the nexus of an intricate pathway influencing the abundance of cone spectral subtypes and specifying rod vs. cone photoreceptors. Understanding this interaction is a necessary step in the refinement of stem cell-based restoration of daytime vision in humans.
We sought to characterize the regenerated cells, if any, when photoreceptor ablation was mostly limited to a particular cone subtype. This allowed us to uniquely assess whether the remaining cells influence specification of regenerating photoreceptors. The ability to replace lost photoreceptors via stem cell therapy holds promise for treating many retinal degenerative diseases. Zebrafish are potent for modelling this because they have robust regenerative capacity emanating from endogenous stem cells, and abundant cone photoreceptors including multiple spectral subtypes similar to human fovea. We ablated the homolog of the human S-cones, the ultraviolet-sensitive (UV) cones, and tested the hypothesis that the photoreceptors regenerating in their place take on identities matching those expected from normal cone mosaic development. We created transgenic fish wherein UV cones can be ablated by addition of a prodrug. Thus photoreceptors developed normally and only the UV cones expressed nitroreductase; the latter converts the prodrug metronidazole to a cell-autonomous neurotoxin. A significant increase in proliferation of progenitor cell populations (p<0.01) was observed when cell ablation was primarily limited to UV cones. In control fish, we found that BrdU primarily incorporated into rod photoreceptors, as expected. However the majority of regenerating photoreceptors became cones when retinal cell ablation was predominantly restricted to UV cones: a 2-fold increase in the relative abundance of cones (p?=?0.008) was mirrored by a 35% decrease in rods. By primarily ablating only a single photoreceptor type, we show that the subsequent regeneration is biased towards restoring the cognate photoreceptor type. We discuss the hypothesis that, after cone death, the microenvironment formed by the remaining retinal cells may be influential in determining the identity of regenerating photoreceptors, though other interpretations are plausible. Our novel animal model provides control of ablation that will assist in identifying mechanisms required to replace cone photoreceptors clinically to restore daytime vision.
Retinal dystrophies are predominantly caused by mutations affecting the visual phototransduction system and cilia, with few genes identified that function to maintain photoreceptor survival. We reasoned that growth factors involved with early embryonic retinal development would represent excellent candidates for such diseases. Here we show that mutations in the transforming growth factor-? (TGF-?) ligand Growth Differentiation Factor 6, which specifies the dorso-ventral retinal axis, contribute to Leber congenital amaurosis. Furthermore, deficiency of gdf6 results in photoreceptor degeneration, so demonstrating a connection between Gdf6 signaling and photoreceptor survival. In addition, in both murine and zebrafish mutant models, we observe retinal apoptosis, a characteristic feature of human retinal dystrophies. Treatment of gdf6-deficient zebrafish embryos with a novel aminopropyl carbazole, P7C3, rescued the retinal apoptosis without evidence of toxicity. These findings implicate for the first time perturbed TGF-? signaling in the genesis of retinal dystrophies, support the study of related morphogenetic genes for comparable roles in retinal disease and may offer additional therapeutic opportunities for genetically heterogeneous disorders presently only treatable with gene therapy.
Longitudinal observation of retinal degeneration and regeneration in animal models is time-consuming and expensive. To address this challenge, we used a custom fundus lens and zebrafish transgenic lines with cell-specific fluorescent reporters to document the state of individual retinal neurons in vivo.
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