A highly conserved retinoic acid responsive element controls wt1a expression in the zebrafish pronephros

Development. 2009 Sep;136(17):2883-92. doi: 10.1242/dev.031773.


The Wilms' tumor suppressor gene Wt1 encodes a zinc-finger transcription factor that plays an essential role in organ development, most notably of the kidney. Despite its importance for organogenesis, knowledge of the regulation of Wt1 expression is scarce. Here, we have used transgenesis in zebrafish harboring two wt1 genes, wt1a and wt1b, in order to define regulatory elements that drive wt1 expression in the kidney. Stable transgenic lines with approximately 30 kb of the upstream genomic regions of wt1a or wt1b almost exactly recapitulated endogenous expression of the wt1 paralogs. In the case of wt1b, we have identified an enhancer that is located in the far upstream region that is necessary and sufficient for reporter gene expression in the pronephric glomeruli. Regarding wt1a, we could also identify an enhancer that is located approximately 4 kb upstream of the transcriptional start site that is required for expression in the intermediate mesoderm. Interestingly, this intermediate mesoderm enhancer is highly conserved between fish and mammals, is bound by members of the retinoic acid receptor family of transcription factors in gel shift experiments and mediates responsiveness to retinoic acid both in vivo and in cell culture. To our knowledge, this is the first functional demonstration of defined regulatory elements controlling Wt1 expression in vivo. The identification of kidney-specific enhancer elements will help us to better understand the integration of extracellular signals into intracellular networks in nephrogenesis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Base Sequence
  • Enhancer Elements, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genes, Reporter
  • Humans
  • Kidney* / embryology
  • Kidney* / metabolism
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / genetics
  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid / metabolism
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / metabolism
  • Retinoid X Receptors / genetics
  • Retinoid X Receptors / metabolism
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Sequence Homology, Nucleic Acid
  • Synteny
  • Tretinoin / metabolism
  • WT1 Proteins* / genetics
  • WT1 Proteins* / metabolism
  • Zebrafish Proteins* / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins* / metabolism
  • Zebrafish* / anatomy & histology
  • Zebrafish* / embryology
  • Zebrafish* / metabolism


  • Receptors, Retinoic Acid
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins
  • Retinoid X Receptors
  • WT1 Proteins
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • Tretinoin