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Publications in 2000

Brehm, A., Länst, G., Kehle, J., Clapier, C., Imhof, A., Eberharter, A., Müller, J. and Becker, P. (2000). Comparison of two recombinant remodelling machines: dMi-2 and ISWI have distinct requirements for ATPase activity and nucleosome mobilisation. EMBO Journal, 19:4332-4341.

Mi-2 and ISWI, two members of the Snf2 superfamily of ATPases, reside in separate ATP-dependent chromatin remodelling complexes. These complexes differ in their biochemical properties and are believed to perform distinct functions in the cell. We have compared the remodelling activity of recombinant DROSOPHILA: Mi-2 (dMi-2) with that of recombinant ISWI. Both proteins are nucleosome-stimulated ATPases and promote nucleosome mobilization. However, dMi-2 and ISWI differ in their interaction with nucleosome core particles, in their substrate requirements and in the direction of nucleosome mobilization. We have used antibodies to immobilize a complex containing dMi-2 and the dRPD3 histone deacetylase from DROSOPHILA: embryo extracts. This complex shares the nucleosome-stimulated ATPase and nucleosome mobilization properties of recombinant dMi-2, demonstrating that these activities are maintained in a physiological context. Its functional properties distinguish dMi-2 from both SWI2/SNF2 and ISWI, defining a new family of ATP-dependent remodelling machines.

Ernest, S., Rauch, G.-J., Haffter, P., Geisler, R., Petit, C. and Nicolson, T. (2000) Mariner is defective in myosin VIIA: a zebrafish model for human hereditary deafness. Human Molecular Genetics 9, 2189-2196.

The zebrafish (Danio rerio) possesses two mechanosensory organs believed to be homologous to each other: the inner ear, which is responsible for the senses of audition and equilibrium, and the lateral line organ, which is involved in the detection of water movements. Eight zebrafish circler or auditory/vestibular mutants appear to have defects specific to sensory hair cell function. The circler genes may therefore encode components of the mechanotransduction apparatus and/or be the orthologous counterparts of the genes underlying human hereditary deafness. In this report, we show that the phenotype of the circler mutant, mariner, is due to mutations in the gene encoding Myosin VIIA, an unconventional myosin which is expressed in sensory hair cells and is responsible for various types of hearing disorder in humans, namely Usher 1B syndrome, DFNB2 and DFNA11. Our analysis of the fine structure of hair bundles in the mariner mutants suggests that a missense mutation within the C-terminal FERM domain of the tail of Myosin VIIA has the potential to dissociate the two different functions of the protein in hair bundle integrity and apical endocytosis. Notably, mariner sensory hair cells display morphological and functional defects that are similar to those present in mouse shaker-1 hair cells which are defective in Myosin VIIA. Thus, this study demonstrates the striking conservation of the function of Myosin VIIA throughout vertebrate evolution and establishes mariner as the first fish model for human hereditary deafness.

Grandel, H., Draper, B.W. and Schulte-Merker, S. (2000): dackel acts in the ectoderm of the zebrafish pectoral fin bud to maintain AER signaling. Development 127, 4169-4178.


Classical embryological studies have implied the existence of an apical ectodermal maintenance factor (AEMF) that sustains signaling from the apical ectodermal ridge (AER) during vertebrate limb development. Recent evidence suggests that AEMF activity is composed of different signals involving both a sonic hedgehog (Shh) signal and a fibroblast growth factor 10 (Fgf10) signal from the mesenchyme. In this study we show that the product of the dackel (dak) gene is one of the components that acts in the epidermis of the zebrafish pectoral fin bud to maintain signaling from the apical fold, which is homologous to the AER of tetrapods, dak acts synergistically with Shh to induce fgf4 and fgf8 expression but independently of Shh in promoting apical fold morphogenesis. The failure of dak mutant fin buds to progress from the initial fin induction phase to the autonomous outgrowth phase causes loss of both AER and Shh activity, and subsequently results in a proximodistal truncation of the fin, similar to the result obtained by ridge ablation experiments in the chicken. Further analysis of the dak mutant phenotype indicates that the activity of the transcription factor engrailed 1 (En1) in the ventral non-ridge ectoderm also depends on a maintenance signal probably provided by the ridge. This result uncovers a new interaction between the AER and the dorsoventral organizer in the zebrafish pectoral fin bud.

Heisenberg, C.-P., Tada, M., Rauch, G.-J., Saúde, L., Concha, M. L., Geisler, R., Stemple, D. L., Smith, J. C. and Wilson, S. W. (2000). Silberblick/Wnt11 mediates convergent extension movements during zebrafish gastrulation. Nature, 405, 76-81.

Vertebrate gastrulation involves the specification and coordinated movement of large populations of cells that give rise to the ectodermal, mesodermal and endodermal germ layers. Although many of the genes involved in the specification of cell identity during this process have been identified, little is known of the genes that coordinate cell movement. Here we show that the zebrafish silberblick (slb) locus encodes Wnt11 and that Slb/Wnt11 activity is required for cells to undergo correct convergent extension movements during gastrulation. In the absence of Slb/Wnt11 function, abnormal extension of axial tissue results in cyclopia and other midline defects in the head. The requirement for Slb/Wnt11 is cell non-autonomous, and our results indicate that the correct extension of axial tissue is at least partly dependent on medio-lateral cell intercalation in paraxial tissue. We also show that the slb phenotype is rescued by a truncated form of Dishevelled that does not signal through the canonical Wnt pathway, suggesting that, as in flies, Wnt signalling might mediate morphogenetic events through a divergent signal transduction cascade. Our results provide genetic and experimental evidence that Wnt activity in lateral tissues has a crucial role in driving the convergent extension movements underlying vertebrate gastrulation.

Holley, S. A., Geisler, R., and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000). Control of her1 expression during zebrafish somitogenesis by a Delta-dependent oscillator and an independent wave-front activity. Genes & Development 14, 1678-90.

Somitogenesis has been linked both to a molecular clock that controls the oscillation of gene expression in the presomitic mesoderm (PSM) and to Notch pathway signaling. The oscillator, or clock, is thought to create a prepattern of stripes of gene expression that regulates the activity of the Notch pathway that subsequently directs somite border formation. Here, we report that the zebrafish gene after eight (aei) that is required for both somitogenesis and neurogenesis encodes the Notch ligand DeltaD. Additional analysis revealed that stripes of her1 expression oscillate within the PSM and that aei/DeltaD signaling is required for this oscillation. aei/DeltaD expression does not oscillate, indicating that the activity of the Notch pathway upstream of her1 may function within the oscillator itself. Moreover, we found that her1 stripes are expressed in the anlage of consecutive somites, indicating that its expression pattern is not pair-rule. Analysis of her1 expression in aei/DeltaD, fused somites (fss), and aei;fss embryos uncovered a wave-front activity that is capable of continually inducing her1 expression de novo in the anterior PSM in the absence of the oscillation of her1. The wave-front activity, in reference to the clock and wave-front model, is defined as such because it interacts with the oscillator-derived pattern in the anterior PSM and is required for somite morphogenesis. This wave-front activity is blocked in embryos mutant for fss but not aei/DeltaD. Thus, our analysis indicates that the smooth sequence of formation, refinement, and fading of her1 stripes in the PSM is governed by two separate activities.

Knaut, H., Pelegri, F., Bohmann, K., Schwarz, H. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000). Zebrafish vasa RNA but not its protein is a component of the germ plasm and segregates asymmetrically before germline specification. Journal of Cell Biology, 149: 875-888.

Work in different organisms revealed that the vasa gene product is essential for germline specification. Here, we describe the asymmetric segregation of zebrafish vasa RNA, which distinguishes germ cell precursors from somatic cells in cleavage stage embryos. At the late blastula (sphere) stage, vasa mRNA segregation changes from asymmetric to symmetric, a process that precedes primordial germ cell proliferation and perinuclear localization of Vasa protein. Analysis of hybrid fish between Danio rerio and Danio feegradei demonstrates that zygotic vasa transcription is initiated shortly after the loss of unequal vasa mRNA segregation. Blocking DNA replication indicates that the change in vasa RNA segregation is dependent on a maternal program. Asymmetric segregation is impaired in embryos mutant for the maternal effect gene nebel. Furthermore, ultrastructural analysis of vasa RNA particles reveals that vasa RNA, but not Vasa protein, localizes to a subcellular structure that resembles nuage, a germ plasm organelle. The structure is initially associated with the actin cortex, and subsequent aggregation is inhibited by actin depolymerization. Later, the structure is found in close proximity of microtubules. We previously showed that its translocation to the distal furrows is microtubule dependent. We propose that vasa RNA but not Vasa protein is a component of the zebrafish germ plasm. Triggered by maternal signals, the pattern of germ plasm segregation changes, which results in the expression of primordial germ cell-specific genes such as vasa and, consequently, in germline fate commitment.

Luschnig, S., Kraus, J., Bohmann, K., Desjeux, I. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000): The Drosophila SHC adaptor protein is required for signalling by a subset of receptor tyrosine kinases. Molecular Cell, 5: 231-241.

Receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) transduce signals via cytoplasmic adaptor proteins to downstream signaling components. We have identified loss-of-function mutations in dshc, the Drosophila homolog of the mammalian adaptor protein SHC. A point mutation in the phosphotyrosine binding (PTB) domain completely abolishes DSHC function and provides in vivo evidence for the function of PTB domains. Unlike other adaptor proteins, DSHC is involved in signaling by only a subset of RTKs: dshc mutants show defects in Torso and DER but not Sevenless signaling, which is confirmed by epistasis experiments. We show by double-mutant analysis that the adaptors DOS, DRK, and DSHC act in parallel to transduce the Torso signal. Our results suggest that DSHC confers specificity to receptor signaling.

Müller, J. (2000). Transcriptional control: The benefits of selective insulation. Current Biology 10, R241-R244.

In eukaryotes, cis-regulatory sequences are often a long way away from the transcription start site, and interactions between regulatory elements can be blocked by 'insulator' sequences. A novel type of cis-regulatory element has now been found that selectively permits some interactions across insulators.

Neumann, C.J. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000): Patterning of the zebrafish retina by a wave of sonic hedgehog activity. Science 289, 2137-9.

The Drosophila retina is patterned by a morphogenetic wave driven by the Hedgehog signaling protein. Hedgehog, secreted by the first neurons, induces neuronal differentiation and hedgehog expression in nearby uncommitted cells, thereby propagating the wave. Evidence is presented here that the zebrafish Hedgehog homolog, Sonic Hedgehog, is also expressed in the first retinal neurons, and that Sonic Hedgehog drives a wave of neurogenesis across the retina, strikingly similar to the wave in Drosophila. The conservation of this patterning mechanism is unexpected, given the highly divergent structures of vertebrate and invertebrate eyes, and supports a common evolutionary origin of the animal visual system.

Odenthal, J., van Eeden, F. J. M., Haffter, P., Ingham, P. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000): Two distict cell populations in the floor plate of the zebrafish are induced by different pathways. Developmental Biology, 219: 350-363.


The floor plate is a morphologically distinct structure of epithelial cells situated along the midline of the ventral spinal cord in vertebrates. It is a source of guidance molecules directing the growth of axons along and across the midline of the neural tube, In the zebrafish, the floor plate is about three cells wide and composed of cuboidal cells. Two cell populations can be distinguished by the expression patterns of several marker genes, including sonic hedgehog (shh) and the fork head-domain gene fkd4: a single row of medial floor plate (MFP) cells, expressing both shh and fkd4, is flanked by rows of lateral hoot plate (LFP) cells that express fkd4 but not shh. Systematic mutant searches in zebrafish embryos have identified a number of genes, mutations in which visibly reduce the floor plate. In these mutants either the MFP or the LFP cells are absent, as revealed by the analysis of the shh and fkd4 expression patterns. MFP cells are absent, but LFP cells are present, in mutants of cyclops, one-eyed pinhead, and schmalspur, whose development of midline structures is affected. LFP cells are absent, but MFP cells are present, in mutants of four genes, sonic you, you, you-too, and chameleon, collectively called the you-type genes. This group of mutants also shows defects in patterning of the paraxial mesoderm, causing U- instead of V-shaped somites. One of the you-type genes, sonic you, was recently shown to encode the zebrafish Shh protein, suggesting that the you-type genes encode components of the Shh signaling pathway. It has been shown previously that in the zebrafish shh is required for the induction of LFP cells, but not for the development of MFP cells. This conclusion is supported by the finding that injection of shh RNA causes an increase in the number of LFP, but not MFP cells. Embryos mutant for iguana, detour, and umleitung share the lack of LFP cells with you-type mutants while somite patterning is not severely affected. In mutants that fail to develop a notochord, MFP cells may be present, but are always surrounded by LFP cells. These data indicate that shh, expressed in the notochord and/or the MFP cells, induces the formation of LFP cells. In embryos doubly mutant for cyclops (cyc) and sonic you (syu) both LFP and MFP cells are deleted. The number of primary motor neurons is strongly reduced in cyc;syu double mutants, while almost normal in single mutants, suggesting that the two different pathways have overlapping functions in the induction of primary motor neurons.

Piotrowski, T. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000): The endoderm plays an important role in pattering the segmented pharyngeal region in zebrafish (Danio rerio). Developmental Biology 225, 339-356.

The development of the vertebrate head is a highly complex process involving tissues derived from all three germ layers. The endoderm forms pharyngeal pouches, the paraxial mesoderm gives rise to endothelia and muscles, and the neural crest cells, which originate from the embryonic midbrain and hindbrain, migrate ventrally to form cartilage, connective tissue, sensory neurons, and pigment cells. All three tissues form segmental structures: the hindbrain compartmentalizes into rhombomeres, the mesoderm into somitomeres, and the endoderm into serial gill slits. It is not known whether the different segmented tissues in the head develop by the same molecular mechanism or whether different pathways are employed. It is also possible that one tissue imposes segmentation on the others. Most recent studies have emphasized the importance of neural crest cells in patterning the head. Neural crest cells colonize the segmentally arranged arches according to their original position in the brain and convey positional information from the hindbrain into the periphery. During the screen for mutations that affect embryonic development of zebrafish, one mutant, called van gogh (vgo), in which segmentation of the pharyngeal region is absent, was isolated. In vgo, even though hindbrain segmentation is unaffected, the pharyngeal endoderm does not form reiterated pouches and surrounding mesoderm is not patterned correctly. Accordingly, migrating neural crest cells initially form distinct streams but fuse when they reach the arches. This failure to populate distinct pharyngeal arches is likely due to the lack of pharyngeal pouches. The results of our analysis suggest that the segmentation of the endoderm occurs without signaling from neural crest cells but that tissue interactions between the mesendoderm and the neural crest cells are required for the segmental appearance of the neural crest-derived cartilages in the pharyngeal arches. The lack of distinct patches of neural crest cells in the pharyngeal region is also seen in mutants of one-eyed pinhead and casanova, which are characterized by a lack of endoderm, as well as defects in mesodermal structures, providing evidence for the important role of the endoderm and mesoderm in governing head segmentation.

Schnorrer, F., Bohmann, K. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (2000): Involvement of the dynein molecular motor in targeting Swallow and bicoid RNA to the anterior pole of the Drosophila oocyte. Nature Cell Biology, 2: 185-190.

Localization of bicoid (bcd) messenger RNA to the anterior pole of the Drosophila oocyte requires the exuperantia (exu), swallow (swa) and staufen (stau) genes. We show here that Swa protein transiently co-localizes with bcd RNA in mid-oogenesis. Swa also localizes to the anterior pole of the oocyte in the absence of bcd RNA. This localization does not require Exu, but depends on intact microtubules. In mutant ovaries with duplicated polarity of microtubules, Swa and bcd RNA are ectopically localized at the posterior pole, as well as being present at the anterior pole. We identify dynein light chain-1 (Ddlc-1), a component of the minus-end-directed microtubule motor cytoplasmic dynein, as a Swa-binding protein. We propose that Swa acts as an adaptor for the dynein complex and thereby enables dynein to transport bcd RNA along microtubules to their minus ends at the anterior pole of the oocyte.

Sultmann, H., Sato, A., Murray, B. W., Takezaki, N., Geisler, R., Rauch, G.-J. and Klein, J. (2000). Conservation of Mhc class III region synteny between zebrafish and human as determined by radiation hybrid mapping. J. Immunol., 165(12): 6984-93.

In the HLA, H2, and other mammalian MHC:, the class I and II loci are separated by the so-called class III region comprised of approximately 60 genes that are functionally and evolutionarily unrelated to the class I/II genes. To explore the origin of this island of unrelated loci in the middle of the MHC: 19 homologues of HLA class III genes, we identified 19 homologues of HLA class III genes as well as 21 additional non-class I/II HLA homologues in the zebrafish and mapped them by testing a panel of 94 zebrafish-hamster radiation hybrid cell lines. Six of the HLA class III and eight of the flanking homologues were found to be linked to the zebrafish class I (but not class II) loci in linkage group 19. The remaining homologous loci were found to be scattered over 14 zebrafish linkage groups. The linkage group 19 contains at least 25 genes (not counting the class I loci) that are also syntenic on human chromosome 6. This gene assembly presumably represents the pre-MHC: that existed before the class I/II genes arose. The pre-MHC: may not have contained the complement and other class III genes involved in immune response.