A zebrafish model of Roberts syndrome reveals that Esco2 depletion interferes with development by disrupting the cell cycle

PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e20051. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020051. Epub 2011 May 26.


The human developmental diseases Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS) and Roberts Syndrome (RBS) are both caused by mutations in proteins responsible for sister chromatid cohesion. Cohesion is mediated by a multi-subunit complex called cohesin, which is loaded onto chromosomes by NIPBL. Once on chromosomes, cohesin binding is stabilized in S phase upon acetylation by ESCO2. CdLS is caused by heterozygous mutations in NIPBL or cohesin subunits SMC1A and SMC3, and RBS is caused by homozygous mutations in ESCO2. The genetic cause of both CdLS and RBS reside within the chromosome cohesion apparatus, and therefore they are collectively known as "cohesinopathies". However, the two syndromes have distinct phenotypes, with differences not explained by their shared ontology. In this study, we have used the zebrafish model to distinguish between developmental pathways downstream of cohesin itself, or its acetylase ESCO2. Esco2 depleted zebrafish embryos exhibit features that resemble RBS, including mitotic defects, craniofacial abnormalities and limb truncations. A microarray analysis of Esco2-depleted embryos revealed that different subsets of genes are regulated downstream of Esco2 when compared with cohesin subunit Rad21. Genes downstream of Rad21 showed significant enrichment for transcriptional regulators, while Esco2-regulated genes were more likely to be involved the cell cycle or apoptosis. RNA in situ hybridization showed that runx1, which is spatiotemporally regulated by cohesin, is expressed normally in Esco2-depleted embryos. Furthermore, myca, which is downregulated in rad21 mutants, is upregulated in Esco2-depleted embryos. High levels of cell death contributed to the morphology of Esco2-depleted embryos without affecting specific developmental pathways. We propose that cell proliferation defects and apoptosis could be the primary cause of the features of RBS. Our results show that mutations in different elements of the cohesion apparatus have distinct developmental outcomes, and provide insight into why CdLS and RBS are distinct diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetyltransferases / deficiency*
  • Acetyltransferases / genetics
  • Acetyltransferases / metabolism
  • Animal Fins / drug effects
  • Animal Fins / growth & development
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Caspases / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Cycle* / drug effects
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone / metabolism
  • Cohesins
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / embryology
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / pathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Ectromelia / pathology*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / drug effects
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism
  • Embryonic Development / drug effects
  • Embryonic Development / genetics
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • G2 Phase / drug effects
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Hypertelorism / pathology*
  • Larva / drug effects
  • Larva / genetics
  • Mitosis / drug effects
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense / pharmacology
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53 / metabolism
  • Zebrafish / embryology
  • Zebrafish / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / deficiency*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism


  • Cell Cycle Proteins
  • Chromosomal Proteins, Non-Histone
  • Esco2 protein, zebrafish
  • Oligonucleotides, Antisense
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • Acetyltransferases
  • Caspases

Supplementary concepts

  • Roberts Syndrome