The genetic and developmental bases for trait expression and variation in adults are largely unknown. One system in which genes and cell behaviors underlying adult traits can be elucidated is the larval-to-adult transformation of zebrafish, Danio rerio. Metamorphosis in this and many other teleost fishes resembles amphibian metamorphosis, as a variety of larval traits (e.g., fins, skin, digestive tract, sensory systems) are remodeled in a coordinated manner to generate the adult form. Among these traits is the pigment pattern, which comprises several neural crest-derived pigment cell classes, including black melanophores, yellow xanthophores, and iridescent iridophores. D. rerio embryos and early larvae exhibit a relatively simple pattern of melanophore stripes, but this pattern is transformed during metamorphosis into the more complex pattern of the adult, consisting of alternating dark (melanophore, iridophore) and light (xanthophore, iridophore) horizontal stripes. While it is clear that some pigment cells differentiate de novo during pigment pattern metamorphosis, the extent to which larval and adult pigment patterns are developmentally independent has not been known. In this study, we show that a subset of embryonic/early larval melanophores persists into adult stages in wild-type fish; thus, larval and adult pigment patterns are not completely independent in this species. We also analyze puma mutant zebrafish, derived from a forward genetic screen to isolate mutations affecting postembryonic development. In puma mutants, a wild-type embryonic/early larval pigment pattern forms, but supernumerary early larval melanophores persist in ectopic locations through juvenile and adult stages. We then show that, although puma mutants undergo a somatic metamorphosis at the same time as wild-type fish, metamorphic melanophores that normally appear during these stages are absent. The puma mutation thus decouples metamorphosis of the pigment pattern from the metamorphosis of many other traits. Nevertheless, puma mutants ultimately recover large numbers of melanophores and exhibit extensive pattern regulation during juvenile development, when the wild-type pigment pattern already would be completed. Finally, we demonstrate that the puma mutant is both temperature-sensitive and growth-sensitive: extremely severe pigment pattern defects result at a high temperature, a high growth rate, or both; whereas a wild-type pigment pattern can be rescued at a low temperature and a low growth rate. Taken together, these results provide new insights into zebrafish pigment pattern metamorphosis and the capacity for pattern regulation when normal patterning mechanisms go awry.
Copyright 2003 Elsevier Science (USA)