Pigment pattern formation in zebrafish: a model for developmental genetics and the evolution of form

Microsc Res Tech. 2002 Sep 15;58(6):442-55. doi: 10.1002/jemt.10162.


The zebrafish Danio rerio is an emerging model organism for understanding vertebrate development and genetics. One trait of both historical and recent interest is the pattern formed by neural crest-derived pigment cells, or chromatophores, which include black melanophores, yellow xanthophores, and iridescent iridophores. In zebrafish, an embryonic and early larval pigment pattern consists of several stripes of melanophores and iridophores, whereas xanthophores are scattered widely over the flank. During metamorphosis, however, this pattern is transformed into that of the adult, which comprises several dark stripes of melanophores and iridophores that alternate with light stripes of xanthophores and iridophores. In this review, we place zebrafish relative to other model and non-model species; we review what is known about the processes of chromatophore specification, differentiation, and morphogenesis during the development of embryonic and adult pigment patterns, and we address how future studies of zebrafish will likely aid our understanding of human disease and the evolution of form.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Patterning*
  • Chromatophores*
  • Models, Genetic*
  • Morphogenesis
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish / growth & development*