Analyzing craniofacial morphogenesis in zebrafish using 4D confocal microscopy

J Vis Exp. 2014 Jan 30;(83):e51190. doi: 10.3791/51190.


Time-lapse imaging is a technique that allows for the direct observation of the process of morphogenesis, or the generation of shape. Due to their optical clarity and amenability to genetic manipulation, the zebrafish embryo has become a popular model organism with which to perform time-lapse analysis of morphogenesis in living embryos. Confocal imaging of a live zebrafish embryo requires that a tissue of interest is persistently labeled with a fluorescent marker, such as a transgene or injected dye. The process demands that the embryo is anesthetized and held in place in such a way that healthy development proceeds normally. Parameters for imaging must be set to account for three-dimensional growth and to balance the demands of resolving individual cells while getting quick snapshots of development. Our results demonstrate the ability to perform long-term in vivo imaging of fluorescence-labeled zebrafish embryos and to detect varied tissue behaviors in the cranial neural crest that cause craniofacial abnormalities. Developmental delays caused by anesthesia and mounting are minimal, and embryos are unharmed by the process. Time-lapse imaged embryos can be returned to liquid medium and subsequently imaged or fixed at later points in development. With an increasing abundance of transgenic zebrafish lines and well-characterized fate mapping and transplantation techniques, imaging any desired tissue is possible. As such, time-lapse in vivo imaging combines powerfully with zebrafish genetic methods, including analyses of mutant and microinjected embryos.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Craniofacial Abnormalities / genetics
  • Facial Bones / embryology*
  • Microscopy, Confocal / methods*
  • Morphogenesis / genetics
  • Morphogenesis / physiology
  • Neural Crest / embryology
  • Receptor, Platelet-Derived Growth Factor alpha / genetics
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Smad5 Protein / genetics
  • Time-Lapse Imaging / methods
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Smad5 Protein
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • smad5 protein, zebrafish
  • Receptor, Platelet-Derived Growth Factor alpha