Skeletal muscle fusion occurs during development, growth, and regeneration. To investigate how muscle fusion compares among different muscle cell types and developmental stages, we studied muscle cell fusion over time in wild-type, myomaker (mymk), and jam2a mutant zebrafish. Using live imaging, we show that embryonic myoblast elongation and fusion correlate tightly with slow muscle cell migration. In wild-type embryos, only fast muscle fibers are multinucleate, consistent with previous work showing that the cell fusion regulator gene mymk is specifically expressed throughout the embryonic fast muscle domain. However, by 3 weeks post-fertilization, slow muscle fibers also become multinucleate. At this late-larval stage, mymk is not expressed in muscle fibers, but is expressed in small cells near muscle fibers. Although previous work showed that both mymk and jam2a are required for embryonic fast muscle cell fusion, we observe that muscle force and function is almost normal in mymk and jam2a mutant embryos, despite the lack of fast muscle multinucleation. We show that genetic requirements change post-embryonically, with jam2a becoming much less important by late-larval stages and mymk now required for muscle fusion and growth in both fast and slow muscle cell types. Correspondingly, adult mymk mutants perform poorly in sprint and endurance tests compared to wild-type and jam2a mutants. We show that adult mymk mutant muscle contains small mononucleate myofibers with average myonuclear domain size equivalent to that in wild type adults. The mymk mutant fibers have decreased Laminin expression and increased numbers of Pax7-positive cells, suggesting that impaired fiber growth and active regeneration contribute to the muscle phenotype. Our findings identify several aspects of muscle fusion that change with time in slow and fast fibers as zebrafish develop beyond embryonic stages.
Keywords: Fast-twitch muscle; Jam2a; Myomaker; Slow-twitch muscle; Type I muscle Fiber.
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