Many neurons receive synapses in stereotypic proportions from converging but functionally distinct afferents. However, developmental mechanisms regulating synaptic convergence are not well understood. Here we describe a heterotypic mechanism by which one afferent controls synaptogenesis of another afferent, but not vice versa. Like other CNS circuits, zebrafish retinal H3 horizontal cells (HC) undergo an initial period of remodelling, establishing synapses with ultraviolet and blue cones while eliminating red and green cone contacts. As development progresses, the HCs selectively synapse with ultraviolet cones to generate a 5:1 ultraviolet-to-blue cone synapse ratio. Blue cone synaptogenesis increases in mutants lacking ultraviolet cones, and when transmitter release or visual stimulation of ultraviolet cones is perturbed. Connectivity is unaltered when blue cone transmission is suppressed. Moreover, there is no cell-autonomous regulation of cone synaptogenesis by neurotransmission. Thus, biased connectivity in this circuit is established by an unusual activity-dependent, unidirectional control of synaptogenesis exerted by the dominant input.
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.
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.
Synthetic targeted endonucleases such as zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) and transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs) have recently emerged as powerful tools for targeted mutagenesis, especially in organisms that are not amenable to embryonic stem cell manipulation. Both ZFNs and TALENs consist of DNA-binding arrays that are fused to the nonspecific FokI nuclease domain. In an effort to improve targeted endonuclease mutagenesis efficiency, we enhanced their catalytic activity using the Sharkey FokI nuclease domain variant. All constructs tested display increased DNA cleavage activity in vitro. We demonstrate that one out of four ZFN arrays containing the Sharkey FokI variant exhibits a dramatic increase in mutagenesis frequency in vivo in zebrafish. The other three ZFNs exhibit no significant alteration of activity in vivo. Conversely, we demonstrate that TALENs containing the Sharkey FokI variant exhibit absent or severely reduced in vivo mutagenic activity in zebrafish. Notably, Sharkey ZFNs and TALENs do not generate increased toxicity-related defects or mortality. Our results present Sharkey ZFNs as an effective alternative to conventional ZFNs, but advise against the use of Sharkey TALENs.
The function of the cellular prion protein (PrP(C)) in healthy brains remains poorly understood, in part because Prnp knockout mice are viable. On the other hand, transient knockdown of Prnp homologs in zebrafish (including two paralogs, prp1 and prp2) has suggested that PrP(C) is required for CNS development, cell adhesion, and neuroprotection. It has been argued that zebrafish Prp2 is most similar to mammalian PrP(C), yet it has remained intransigent to the most thorough confirmations of reagent specificity during knockdown. Thus we investigated the role of prp2 using targeted gene disruption via zinc finger nucleases. Prp2(-/-) zebrafish were viable and did not display overt developmental phenotypes. Back-crossing female prp2(-/-) fish ruled out a role for maternal mRNA contributions. Prp2(-/-) larvae were found to have increased seizure-like behavior following exposure to the convulsant pentylenetetrazol (PTZ), as compared to wild type fish. In situ recordings from intact hindbrains demonstrated that prp2 regulates closing of N-Methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, concomitant with neuroprotection during glutamate excitotoxicity. Overall, the knockout of Prp2 function in zebrafish independently confirmed hypothesized roles for PrP, identifying deeply conserved functions in post-developmental regulation of neuron excitability that are consequential to the etiology of prion and Alzheimer diseases.
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.
Although behavioural experiments demonstrate that colouration influences mate choice in many species, a complete understanding of this form of signalling requires information about colour vision in the species under investigation. The guppy (Poecilia reticulata) has become a model species for the study of colour-based sexual selection. To investigate the role of opsin gene duplication and divergence in the evolution of colour-based mate choice, we used in situ hybridization to determine where the guppys nine cone opsins are expressed in the retina. Long wavelength-sensitive (LWS) opsins were more abundant in the dorsal retina than in the ventral retina. One of the middle wavelength-sensitive opsins (RH2-1) exhibited the opposite pattern, while the other middle wavelength-sensitive opsin (RH2-2) and the short wavelength-sensitive opsins (SWS1, SWS2A and SWS2B) were expressed throughout the retina. We also found variation in LWS opsin expression among individuals. These observations suggest that regions of the guppy retina are specialized with respect to wavelength discrimination and/or sensitivity. Intra-retinal variability in opsin expression, which has been observed in several fish species, might be an adaptation to variation in the strength and spectral composition of light entering the eye from above and below. The discovery that opsin expression varies in the guppy retina may motivate new behavioural experiments designed to study its role in mate choice.
The four-eyed fish, Anableps anableps, has eyes with unusual morphological adaptations for simultaneous vision above and below water. The retina, for example, is divided such that one region receives light from the aerial field and the other from the aquatic field. To understand better the adaptive value of this partitioned retina, we characterized photoreceptor distribution using in situ hybridization. Cones expressing sws1, sws2b and rh2-2 (i.e. UV, and short wavelength-sensitive) opsins were found throughout the retina, whereas cones expressing rh2-1 (middle wavelength-sensitive) were largely limited to the ventral retina and those expressing lws (long wavelength-sensitive) opsins were only expressed in the dorsal retina. We next asked when this pattern evolved relative to the four-eyed morphology. We characterized opsin expression in Jenynsia onca, a member of the sister genus to Anableps with typical teleost eye morphology. In J. onca, sws1, sws2b, rh2-2 and rh2-1 opsins were expressed throughout the retina; while lws opsins were not expressed in the ventral retina. Thus, the change that coincides with the evolution of unusual anablepid eye morphology is the loss of rh2-1 expression in the dorsal retina, probably to accommodate increased lws opsin expression. The retinal area that samples aerial light appears not to have changed with respect to photoreceptor transcription.
The PITX2 homeobox and FOXC1 and FOXC2 forkhead box transcription factors are critical for eye development and cause human ocular diseases when mutated. We have identified biochemical and genetic links between these transcription factors and a transcriptional regulator protein PRKC apoptosis Wilms tumor 1 regulator (PAWR) that we propose to functionally connect all these proteins in a common pathway critically involved in eye development. We discovered all binary physical interactions between FOXC1, PITX2, FOXC2 and PAWR. Importantly, PAWR modulates the abilities of PITX2, FOXC1 and FOXC2 to activate their genetic targets. Together with either FOXC1 or FOXC2, PAWR increases PITX2 activity. PAWR reduces PITX2 activity in the absence of FOXC1 or FOXC2. At the same time, PAWR also exerts different regulatory effects on different FOXC target sites. Furthermore, morpholino knockdown of pitx2, foxc1 and pawr in zebrafish indicate that PAWR, FOXC1 and PITX2 genetically interact, and are in the same developmental pathway. These data for the first time tie PITX2, FOXC1, FOXC2 and PAWR into a common regulatory pathway. We have therefore identified a functional link between three transcription factors, modulated by PAWR, which we propose underlies the similar ocular phenotypes and glaucoma pathology caused by mutations of these genes.
Cone photoreceptors in fish are typically arranged into a precise, reiterated pattern known as a "cone mosaic." Cone mosaic patterns can vary in different fish species and in response to changes in habitat, yet their function and the mechanisms of their development remain speculative. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) have four cone subtypes arranged into precise rows in the adult retina. Here we describe larval zebrafish cone patterns and investigate a previously unrecognized transition between larval and adult cone mosaic patterns. Cone positions were determined in transgenic zebrafish expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP) in their UV-sensitive cones, by the use of multiplex in situ hybridization labelling of various cone opsins. We developed a "mosaic metric" statistical tool to measure local cone order. We found that ratios of the various cone subtypes in larval and adult zebrafish were statistically different. The cone photoreceptors in larvae form a regular heterotypic mosaic array; i.e., the position of any one cone spectral subtype relative to the other cone subtypes is statistically different from random. However, the cone spectral subtypes in larval zebrafish are not arranged in continuous rows as in the adult. We used cell birth dating to show that the larval cone mosaic pattern remains as a distinct region within the adult retina and does not reorganize into the adult row pattern. In addition, the abundance of cone subtypes relative to other subtypes is different in this larval remnant compared with that of larvae or canonical adult zebrafish retina. These observations provide baseline data for understanding the development of cone mosaics via comparative analysis of larval and adult cone development in a model species.
Zebrafish possess a robust, innate CNS regenerative ability. Combined with their genetic tractability and vertebrate CNS architecture, this ability makes zebrafish an attractive model to gain requisite knowledge for clinical CNS regeneration. In treatment of neurological disorders, one can envisage replacing lost neurons through stem cell therapy or through activation of latent stem cells in the CNS. Here we review the evidence that radial glia are a major source of CNS stem cells in zebrafish and thus activation of radial glia is an attractive therapeutic target. We discuss the regenerative potential and the molecular mechanisms thereof, in the zebrafish spinal cord, retina, optic nerve and higher brain centres. We evaluate various cell ablation paradigms developed to induce regeneration, with particular emphasis on the need for (high throughput) indicators that neuronal regeneration has restored sensory or motor function. We also examine the potential confound that regeneration imposes as the community develops zebrafish models of neurodegeneration. We conclude that zebrafish combine several characters that make them a potent resource for testing hypotheses and discovering therapeutic targets in functional CNS regeneration. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Zebrafish Models of Neurological Diseases.
Ocular mal-development results in heterogeneous and frequently visually disabling phenotypes that include coloboma and microphthalmia. Due to the contribution of bone morphogenetic proteins to such processes, the function of the paralogue Growth Differentiation Factor 3 was investigated. Multiple mis-sense variants were identified in patients with ocular and/or skeletal (Klippel-Feil) anomalies including one individual with heterozygous alterations in GDF3 and GDF6. These variants were characterized, individually and in combination, through integrated biochemical and zebrafish model organism analyses, demonstrating appreciable effects with western blot analyses, luciferase based reporter assays and antisense morpholino inhibition. Notably, inhibition of the zebrafish co-orthologue of GDF3 accurately recapitulates patient phenotypes. By demonstrating the pleiotropic effects of GDF3 mutation, these results extend the contribution of perturbed BMP signaling to human disease and potentially implicate multi-allelic inheritance of BMP variants in developmental disorders.
Genetic and biochemical mechanisms linking onset or progression of Alzheimer Disease and prion diseases have been lacking and/or controversial, and their etiologies are often considered independent. Here we document a novel, conserved and specific genetic interaction between the proteins that underlie these diseases, amyloid-? precursor protein and prion protein, APP and PRP, respectively. Knockdown of APP and/or PRNP homologs in the zebrafish (appa, appb, prp1, and prp2) produces a dose-dependent phenotype characterized by systemic morphological defects, reduced cell adhesion and CNS cell death. This genetic interaction is surprisingly exclusive in that prp1 genetically interacts with zebrafish appa, but not with appb, and the zebrafish paralog prp2 fails to interact with appa. Intriguingly, appa & appb are largely redundant in early zebrafish development yet their abilities to rescue CNS cell death are differentially contingent on prp1 abundance. Delivery of human APP or mouse Prnp mRNAs rescue the phenotypes observed in app-prp-depleted zebrafish, highlighting the conserved nature of this interaction. Immunoprecipitation revealed that human APP and PrP(C) proteins can have a physical interaction. Our study reports a unique in vivo interdependence between APP and PRP loss-of-function, detailing a biochemical interaction that considerably expands the hypothesized roles of PRP in Alzheimer Disease.
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