Early development of the enteric nervous system visualized by using a new transgenic zebrafish line harboring a regulatory region for choline acetyltransferase a (chata) gene

Gene Expr Patterns. 2018 Jun:28:12-21. doi: 10.1016/j.gep.2018.01.003. Epub 2018 Feb 2.


The enteric nervous system (ENS) is the largest part of the peripheral nervous system in vertebrates. Toward the visualization of the development of the vertebrate ENS, we report our creation of a new transgenic line, Tg(chata:GGFF2) which has a 1.5-kb upstream region of the zebrafish choline acetyltransferase a (chata) gene followed by modified green fluorescent protein (gfp). During development, GFP + cells were detected in the gut by 60 h post-fertilization (hpf). In the gut of 6- and 12-days post-fertilization (dpf) larvae, an average of 92% of the GFP + cells were positive for the neuronal marker HuC/D, suggesting that GFP marks enteric neurons in this transgenic line. We also observed that 66% of the GFP + cells were choline acetyltransferase (ChAT)-immunopositive at 1.5 months. Thus, GFP is expressed at the larval stages at which ChAT protein expression is not yet detected by immunostaining. We studied the spatiotemporal pattern of neural differentiation in the ENS by live-imaging of this transgenic line. We observed that GFP + or gfp + cells initially formed a pair of bilateral rows at 60 hpf or 53 hpf, respectively, in the migrating enteric neural crest cells. Most of the GFP + cells did not migrate, and most of the new GFP + cells were added to fill the space among the previously formed GFP + cells. GFP expression reached the anus by 72 hpf. New GFP + cells then also appeared in the dorsal and ventral sides of the initial GFP + rows, resulting in their distribution on the entire gut by 4 dpf. A small number of new GFP + cells were found to move among older GFP + cells just before the cells stopped migration, suggesting that the moving GFP + cells may represent neural precursor cells searching for a place for the final differentiation. Our data suggest that the Tg(chata:GGFF2) line could serve as a useful tool for studies of enteric neural differentiation and cell behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified / genetics
  • Animals, Genetically Modified / growth & development*
  • Animals, Genetically Modified / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase / genetics*
  • Enteric Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Enteric Nervous System / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / genetics
  • Green Fluorescent Proteins / metabolism*
  • Neural Stem Cells / cytology
  • Neural Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Organogenesis
  • Regulatory Sequences, Nucleic Acid*
  • Zebrafish / genetics
  • Zebrafish / growth & development*
  • Zebrafish / physiology


  • Green Fluorescent Proteins
  • Choline O-Acetyltransferase