The zebrafish is an excellent model animal that is amenable to forward genetics approaches. To uncover unknown developmental regulatory mechanisms in vertebrates, we conducted chemical mutagenesis screening and identified a novel mutation, kanazutsi (kzt). This mutation is recessive, and its homozygotes are embryonic lethal. Mutant embryos suffered from a variety of morphological defects, such as head flattening, pericardial edema, circulation defects, disrupted patterns of melanophore distribution, dwarf eyes, a defective jaw, and extensive apoptosis in the head, which indicates that the main affected tissues are derived from neural crest cells (NCCs). The expression of tissue-specific markers in kzt mutants showed that the early specification of NCCs was normal, but their later differentiation was severely affected. The mutation was mapped to chromosome 3 by linkage analyses, near cytoglobin 1 (cygb1), the product of which is a globin-family respiratory protein. cygb1 expression was activated during somitogenesis in somites and cranial NCCs in wild-type embryos but was significantly downregulated in mutant embryos, despite the normal primary structure of the gene product. The kzt mutation was phenocopied by cygb1 knockdown with low-dose morpholino oligos and was partially rescued by cygb1 overexpression. Both severe knockdown and null mutation of cygb1, established by the CRISPR/Cas9 technique, resulted in far more severe defects at early stages. Thus, it is highly likely that the downregulation of cygb1 is responsible for many, if not all, of the phenotypes of the kzt mutation. These results reveal a requirement for globin family proteins in vertebrate embryos, particularly in the differentiation and subsequent development of NCCs.
Keywords: Cytoglobin; Globin family; Mutagenesis screening; Neural crest cell; Oxygen metabolism; Zebrafish.
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