Proliferation, dispersal and patterned aggregation of iridophores in the skin prefigure striped colouration of zebrafish

Nat Cell Biol. 2014 Jun;16(6):607-14. doi: 10.1038/ncb2955. Epub 2014 Apr 28.


Colour patterns are a striking feature of animals; they evolve rapidly and play an important role in natural as well as sexual selection. It has been proposed that colour pattern formation in adult vertebrates depends on Turing-type interactions between pigment cells; however, little is known about the actual developmental mechanisms underlying the complex and prolonged ontogeny of this important adult feature. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) owe their name to a repetitive pattern of dark stripes and light interstripes parallel to the anteroposterior body axis that develop during juvenile stages. By inducible Cre/loxP-mediated recombination in neural-crest-derived progenitors, we created labelled clones of skin pigment cells that were imaged over several weeks in juvenile and adult fish. Metamorphic iridophores arise from postembryonic stem cells located at the dorsal root ganglia of the peripheral nervous system. They emerge in the skin at the horizontal myoseptum to form the first interstripe and proliferate while spreading bidirectionally along the dorsoventral axis. Patterned aggregation of iridophores during their dispersal generates a series of interstripes that define the stripe regions. Melanophore progenitors appear in situ in the presumptive stripe region where they melanize and expand in size to form compact stripes. Thus, although depending on mutual interactions between different pigment cells, stripes and interstripes are formed by a completely different cellular route.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Video-Audio Media

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Cell Movement*
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Chromatophores / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Melanophores / metabolism
  • Skin / growth & development
  • Skin / metabolism*
  • Skin Pigmentation* / genetics
  • Stem Cells / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish / growth & development
  • Zebrafish / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism*


  • Zebrafish Proteins