A requirement for kit in embryonic zebrafish melanocyte differentiation is revealed by melanoblast delay

Dev Genes Evol. 2004 Oct;214(10):493-502. doi: 10.1007/s00427-004-0428-y. Epub 2004 Aug 5.


Exploring differences in gene requirements between species can allow us to delineate basic developmental mechanisms, provide insight into patterns of evolution, and explain heterochronic differences in developmental processes. One example of differences in gene requirements between zebrafish and mammals is the requirement of the kit receptor tyrosine kinase in melanocyte development. kit is required for migration, survival and differentiation of all neural crest-derived melanocytes in mammals. In contrast, zebrafish kit is not required for differentiation of embryonic melanocytes during normal development. When melanoblast development in zebrafish embryos is delayed by injecting morpholinos targeted to the mitfa gene, we show that these delayed melanoblasts fail to differentiate in kit mutants. Thus, we show that there is a kit requirement for melanocyte differentiation in zebrafish when melanoblast development is delayed. Furthermore, we show that kit is not involved in maintaining melanocyte precursors through the developmental delay, but instead is required for differentiation of melanocytes after the block on their development is removed. Finally, we suggest there is a heterochronic shift in the onset of melanocyte differentiation between fish and mouse, and developmental delay of melanoblast development in zebrafish removes this heterochronic difference.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Melanocytes / metabolism*
  • Melanocytes / physiology
  • Morphogenesis
  • Oligonucleotides
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / metabolism


  • Oligonucleotides
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-kit