Small molecule screening in zebrafish: swimming in potential drug therapies

Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. May-Jun 2012;1(3):459-68. doi: 10.1002/wdev.37. Epub 2012 Feb 28.


Phenotype-driven chemical genetic screens in zebrafish have become a proven approach for both dissection of developmental mechanisms and discovery of potential therapeutics. A library of small molecules can be arrayed into multiwell plates containing zebrafish embryos. The embryo becomes a whole organism in vivo bioassay that can produce a phenotype upon treatment. Screens have been performed that are based simply on the morphology of the embryo. Other screens have scored complex phenotypes using whole mount in situ hybridization, fluorescent transgenic reporters, and even tracking of embryo movement. The availability of many well-characterized zebrafish mutants has also enabled the discovery of chemical suppressors of genetic phenotypes. Importantly, the application of chemical libraries that already contain FDA-approved drugs has allowed the rapid translation of hits from zebrafish chemical screens to clinical trials.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / drug effects*
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / metabolism*
  • Genetic Testing*
  • Phenotype
  • Small Molecule Libraries / pharmacology*
  • Zebrafish / embryology
  • Zebrafish / genetics*


  • Small Molecule Libraries