G protein-coupled estrogen receptor regulates embryonic heart rate in zebrafish

PLoS Genet. 2017 Oct 24;13(10):e1007069. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1007069. eCollection 2017 Oct.


Estrogens act by binding to estrogen receptors alpha and beta (ERα, ERβ), ligand-dependent transcription factors that play crucial roles in sex differentiation, tumor growth and cardiovascular physiology. Estrogens also activate the G protein-coupled estrogen receptor (GPER), however the function of GPER in vivo is less well understood. Here we find that GPER is required for normal heart rate in zebrafish embryos. Acute exposure to estrogens increased heart rate in wildtype and in ERα and ERβ mutant embryos but not in GPER mutants. GPER mutant embryos exhibited reduced basal heart rate, while heart rate was normal in ERα and ERβ mutants. We detected gper transcript in discrete regions of the brain and pituitary but not in the heart, suggesting that GPER acts centrally to regulate heart rate. In the pituitary, we observed gper expression in cells that regulate levels of thyroid hormone triiodothyronine (T3), a hormone known to increase heart rate. Compared to wild type, GPER mutants had reduced levels of T3 and estrogens, suggesting pituitary abnormalities. Exposure to exogenous T3, but not estradiol, rescued the reduced heart rate phenotype in gper mutant embryos, demonstrating that T3 acts downstream of GPER to regulate heart rate. Using genetic and mass spectrometry approaches, we find that GPER regulates maternal estrogen levels, which are required for normal embryonic heart rate. Our results demonstrate that estradiol plays a previously unappreciated role in the acute modulation of heart rate during zebrafish embryonic development and suggest that GPER regulates embryonic heart rate by altering maternal estrogen levels and embryonic T3 levels.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / drug effects
  • Embryo, Nonmammalian / physiology*
  • Embryonic Development / drug effects
  • Estradiol / administration & dosage*
  • Estrogens / analysis
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Mutation
  • Pituitary Gland / drug effects
  • Pituitary Gland / metabolism
  • Receptors, Estrogen / genetics
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Triiodothyronine / analysis
  • Zebrafish / embryology*
  • Zebrafish / genetics*
  • Zebrafish Proteins / genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins / metabolism*


  • Estrogens
  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled
  • Zebrafish Proteins
  • gper1 protein, zebrafish
  • Triiodothyronine
  • Estradiol