Background: Elucidating the complex cell dynamics (divisions, movement, morphological changes, etc.) underlying embryonic development and adult tissue regeneration requires an efficient means to track cells with high fidelity in space and time. To satisfy this criterion, we developed a transgenic zebrafish line, called PhOTO, that allows photoconvertible optical tracking of nuclear and membrane dynamics in vivo.
Methodology: PhOTO zebrafish ubiquitously express targeted blue fluorescent protein (FP) Cerulean and photoconvertible FP Dendra2 fusions, allowing for instantaneous, precise targeting and tracking of any number of cells using Dendra2 photoconversion while simultaneously monitoring global cell behavior and morphology. Expression persists through adulthood, making the PhOTO zebrafish an excellent tool for studying tissue regeneration: after tail fin amputation and photoconversion of a ∼100 µm stripe along the cut area, marked differences seen in how cells contribute to the new tissue give detailed insight into the dynamic process of regeneration. Photoconverted cells that contributed to the regenerate were separated into three distinct populations corresponding to the extent of cell division 7 days after amputation, and a subset of cells that divided the least were organized into an evenly spaced, linear orientation along the length of the newly regenerating fin.
Conclusions/significance: PhOTO zebrafish have wide applicability for lineage tracing at the systems-level in the early embryo as well as in the adult, making them ideal candidate tools for future research in development, traumatic injury and regeneration, cancer progression, and stem cell behavior.