Developmental exposure to valproic acid alters the expression of microRNAs involved in neurodevelopment in zebrafish

Neurotoxicol Teratol. Nov-Dec 2013;40:46-58. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2013 Oct 12.


Congenital malformations are a prevalent cause of infant mortality in the United States and their induction has been linked to a variety of factors, including exposure to teratogens. However, the molecular mechanisms of teratogenicity are not fully understood. MicroRNAs are an important group of small, non-coding RNAs that regulate mRNA expression. MicroRNA roles in early embryonic development are well established, and their disruption during development can cause abnormalities. We hypothesized that developmental exposure to teratogens such as valproic acid alters microRNA expression profiles in developing embryos. Valproic acid is an anticonvulsant and mood-stabilizing drug used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraines. To examine the effects of valproic acid on microRNA expression during development, we used zebrafish embryos as a model vertebrate developmental system. Zebrafish embryos were continuously exposed to valproic acid (1mM) or vehicle control (ethanol) starting from 4h post-fertilization (hpf) and sampled at 48 and 96hpf to determine the miRNA expression profiles prior to and after the onset of developmental defects. At 96hpf, 95% of the larvae showed skeletal deformities, abnormal swimming behavior, and pericardial effusion. Microarray expression profiling was done using Agilent zebrafish miRNA microarrays. Microarray results revealed changes in miRNA expression at both time points. Thirteen miRNAs were differentially expressed at 48hpf and 22 miRNAs were altered at 96hpf. Among them, six miRNAs (miR-16a, 18c, 122, 132, 457b, and 724) were common to both time points. Bioinformatic target prediction and examination of published literature revealed that these miRNAs target several genes involved in the normal functioning of the central nervous system. These results suggest that the teratogenic effects of valproic acid could involve altered miRNA expression.

Keywords: Development; Microarrays; Teratogens; Zebrafish; microRNA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / embryology
  • Embryonic Development / drug effects*
  • MicroRNAs / metabolism*
  • Valproic Acid / toxicity*
  • Zebrafish / embryology*


  • MicroRNAs
  • Valproic Acid