Nkx2.5 is essential to establish normal heart rate variability in the zebrafish embryo

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2017 Sep 1;313(3):R265-R271. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00223.2016. Epub 2017 Jun 14.


Heart rate variability (HRV) has become an important clinical marker of cardiovascular health and a research measure for the study of the cardiac conduction system and its autonomic controls. While the zebrafish (Danio rerio) is an ideal vertebrate model for understanding heart development, HRV has only recently been investigated in this system. We have previously demonstrated that nkx2.5 and nkx2.7, two homologues of Nkx2-5 expressed in zebrafish cardiomyocytes, play vital roles in maintaining cardiac chamber-specific characteristics. Given observed defects in ventricular and atrial chamber identities in nkx2.5-/- embryos coupled with conduction system abnormalities in murine models of Nkx2.5 insufficiency, we postulated that reduced HRV would serve as a marker of poor cardiac health in nkx2.5 mutants and in other zebrafish models of human congenital heart disease. Using live video image acquisition, we derived beat-to-beat intervals to compare HRV in wild-type and nkx2.5-/- embryos. Our data illustrate that the nkx2.5 loss-of-function model exhibits increased heart rate and decreased HRV when compared with wild type during embryogenesis. These findings validate HRV analysis as a useful quantitative tool for assessment of cardiac health in zebrafish and underscore the importance of nkx2.5 in maintaining normal heart rate and HRV during early conduction system development.

Keywords: heart rate variability; nkx2.5; zebrafish.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryonic Development / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Homeobox Protein Nkx-2.5 / metabolism*
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism*


  • Homeobox Protein Nkx-2.5
  • Nkx2.5 protein, zebrafish
  • Zebrafish Proteins