In recent years, the zebrafish Danio rerio has emerged as a powerful model organism for the study of vertebrate embryogenesis. Zebrafish, like other vertebrates, possess pigment cells that arise from two distinct embryonic sources: those of the dermis and epidermis originate from the neural crest, while those that comprise the outermost layer of the retina, the retinal pigment epithelium or RPE, derive from the optic cup. A better understanding of processes behind the specification and differentiation of these cells will provide insight to the evolutionary diversification of all classes of vertebrates and will have clinical relevance to human disorders of pigmentation and certain retinopathies. In the first part of this review, the present knowledge of the ontogeny of both of these populations of pigment cells in the embryonic zebrafish is summarized, in terms of both genetics and molecular markers. The final part of the review focuses on duplicate zebrafish genes encoding orthologs of the basic helix-loop-helix/leucine zipper protein Mitf (Microphthalmia-associated transcription factor), and presents a hypothesis concerning their divergent roles in neural crest and retinal pigment cells.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.