Isolation of photoreceptors from mature, developing, and regenerated zebrafish retinas, and of microglia/macrophages from regenerating zebrafish retinas

Exp Eye Res. 2018 Dec;177:130-144. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2018.08.002. Epub 2018 Aug 8.


This paper describes experimental procedures for the dissociation of retinal cells of the zebrafish (Danio rerio) for subsequent fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) and gene expression studies. Methods for dissociation of zebrafish retinas followed by FACS and RNA isolation were optimized. This methodology was applied to isolate pure sorted samples of rods, long wavelength-sensitive (LWS) cones, medium wavelength-sensitive (MWS; RH2-2) cones, short wavelength-sensitive (SWS2) cones, and UV-sensitive (SWS1) cones from retinas obtained at selective life-history stages of the zebrafish, and for some of these photoreceptors, following retinal regeneration. We also successfully separated lws1-expressing and lws2-expressing LWS cones from fish of a transgenic line in which lws1 is reported with green fluorescence protein (GFP) and lws2 is reported with red fluorescence protein (RFP). Microglia/macrophages were successfully sorted from regenerating retinas (7 days after a cytotoxic lesion) of a transgenic line in which these immune cells express GFP. Electropherograms verified downstream isolation of high-quality RNA from sorted samples. Examples of post-sorting analysis, as well as results of qRT-PCR studies, validated the purity of sorted populations. For example, qRT-PCR samples derived from isolated Rh2-2 cones contained detectable rh2-2 (opn1mw2) opsin transcripts, but lws opsin transcripts (lws1/opn1lw1, lws2/opn1lw2) were not detected, suggesting that the procedure likely separated double cone pairs. Through this method, pure, sorted cell samples can provide RNA that is reliable for downstream gene expression analyses, such as qRT-PCR and RNA-seq, which may reveal molecular signatures of photoreceptors and microglia for comparative transcriptomics studies.

Keywords: Cone; FACS; Gene expression; Macrophage; Microglia; Regeneration; Retina; Rod; Zebrafish; qRT-PCR.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Separation / methods*
  • Flow Cytometry / methods
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Macrophages*
  • Microglia*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells*
  • Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells*
  • Zebrafish / embryology