Background: The aim of this study was to develop a model of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in zebrafish larvae, together with a method for the rapid assessment of gut morphology and function in vivo thereby enabling medium-throughput compound screening.
Methods: Assays were performed using larval zebrafish from 3-8 days postfertilization (d.p.f.) in 96-well plates. Gut morphology and peristalsis were observed in vivo using fluorescent imaging following ingestion of fluorescent dyes. IBD was induced by addition of 2,4,6-trinitrobenzenesulfonic acid (TNBS) to the medium within the well. Pathology was assessed in vivo using fluorescent imaging and postmortem by histology, immunohistochemistry, and electron microscopy. Therapeutic compounds were evaluated by coadministration with TNBS.
Results: A novel method of investigating gut architecture and peristalsis was devised using fluorescent imaging of live zebrafish larvae. Archetypal changes in gut architecture consistent with colitis were observed throughout the gut. Significant changes in goblet cell number and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) antibody staining were used to quantify disease severity and rescue. Prednisolone and 5-amino salicylic acid treatment ameliorated the disease changes. Candidate therapeutic compounds (NOS inhibitors, thalidomide, and parthenolide) were assessed and a dissociation was observed between efficacy assessed using a single biochemical measure (TNF-alpha staining) versus an assessment of the entire disease state.
Conclusions: Gut physiology and pathology relevant to human disease state can be rapidly modeled in zebrafish larvae. The model is suitable for medium-throughput chemical screens and is amenable to genetic manipulation, hence offers a powerful novel premammalian adjunct to the study of gastrointestinal disease.