How the zebrafish gets its stripes

Dev Biol. 2001 Dec 15;240(2):301-14. doi: 10.1006/dbio.2001.0418.


The study of vertebrate pigment patterns is a classic and enduring field of developmental biology. Knowledge of pigment pattern development comes from a variety of systems, including avians, mouse, and more recently, the zebrafish (Danio rerio). Recent analyses of the mechanisms underlying the development of the neural crest-derived pigment cell type common to all vertebrates, the melanocyte, have revealed remarkable similarities and several surprising differences between amniotes and zebrafish. Here, we summarize recent advances in the study of melanocyte development in zebrafish, with reference to human, mouse, and avian systems. We first review melanocyte development in zebrafish and mammals, followed by a summary of the molecules known to be required for their development. We then discuss several relatively unaddressed issues in vertebrate pigment pattern development that are being investigated in zebrafish. These include determining the relationships between genetically distinct classes of melanocytes, characterizing and dissecting melanocyte stem cell development, and understanding how pigment cells organize into a patterned tissue. Further analysis of zebrafish pigment pattern mutants as well as new generations of directed mutant screens promise to extend our understanding of pigment pattern morphogenesis.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Patterning / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • High Mobility Group Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Melanocytes / cytology
  • Mice
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor
  • Models, Biological
  • Mutation
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / genetics
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor / genetics
  • Receptors, Endothelin / genetics
  • SOXE Transcription Factors
  • Signal Transduction
  • Skin Pigmentation / genetics
  • Stem Cell Factor / genetics
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Transcription Factors*
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish / growth & development*
  • Zebrafish Proteins*


  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • High Mobility Group Proteins
  • Microphthalmia-Associated Transcription Factor
  • Mitf protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins
  • Receptors, Endothelin
  • SOX10 protein, human
  • SOXE Transcription Factors
  • Sox10 protein, mouse
  • Stem Cell Factor
  • Transcription Factors
  • Wnt Proteins
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • mitfa protein, zebrafish
  • wnt8b protein, zebrafish
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit
  • Receptor, Macrophage Colony-Stimulating Factor