Visualizing digestive organ morphology and function using differential fatty acid metabolism in live zebrafish

Dev Biol. 2011 Dec 15;360(2):276-85. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2011.09.010. Epub 2011 Sep 21.


Lipids are essential for cellular function as sources of fuel, critical signaling molecules and membrane components. Deficiencies in lipid processing and transport underlie many metabolic diseases. To better understand metabolic function as it relates to disease etiology, a whole animal approach is advantageous, one in which multiple organs and cell types can be assessed simultaneously in vivo. Towards this end, we have developed an assay to visualize fatty acid (FA) metabolism in larval zebrafish (Danio rerio). The method utilizes egg yolk liposomes to deliver different chain length FA analogs (BODIPY-FL) to six day-old larvae. Following liposome incubation, larvae accumulate the analogs throughout their digestive organs, providing a comprehensive readout of organ structure and physiology. Using this assay we have observed that different chain length FAs are differentially transported and metabolized by the larval digestive system. We show that this assay can also reveal structural and metabolic defects in digestive mutants. Because this labeling technique can be used to investigate digestive organ morphology and function, we foresee its application in diverse studies of organ development and physiology.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Transport
  • Boron Compounds
  • Digestive System / anatomy & histology
  • Digestive System / metabolism
  • Egg Yolk / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Larva / anatomy & histology
  • Larva / physiology
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Liposomes
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Palmitic Acids
  • Zebrafish / anatomy & histology
  • Zebrafish / physiology*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism


  • 4,4-difluoro-4-bora-3a,4a-diaza-s-indacene
  • 4,4-difluoro-5,7-dimethyl-4-bora-3a,4a-diaza-s-indacene-3-dodecanoic acid
  • 4,4-difluoro-5,7-dimethyl-4-bora-3a,4a-diaza-s-indacene-3-hexadecanoic acid
  • Boron Compounds
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Liposomes
  • Palmitic Acids
  • Zebrafish Proteins