Hepatic apoptosis is involved in a variety of pathophysiologic conditions in the liver, including hepatitis, steatosis, and drug-induced liver injury. The development of easy-to-perform and reliable in vivo assays would thus greatly enhance the efforts to understand liver diseases and identify associated genes and potential drugs. In this study, we developed a transgenic zebrafish line that was suitable for the assessment of caspase 3 activity in the liver by using in vivo fluorescence imaging. The larvae of transgenic zebrafish dominantly expressed Casper3GR in the liver under control of the promoter of the phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase 1 gene. Casper3GR is composed of two fluorescent proteins, tagGFP and tagRFP, which are connected via a peptide linker that can be cleaved by activated caspase 3. Under tagGFP excitation conditions in zebrafish that were exposed to the well-characterized hepatotoxicant isoniazid, we detected increased and decreased fluorescence associated with tagGFP and tagRFP, respectively. This result suggests that isoniazid activates caspase 3 in the zebrafish liver, which digests the linker between tagGFP and tagRFP, resulting in a reduction in the Förster resonance energy transfer to tagRFP upon tagGFP excitation. We also detected isoniazid-induced inhibition of caspase 3 activity in zebrafish that were treated with the hepatoprotectants ursodeoxycholic acid and obeticholic acid. The transgenic zebrafish that were developed in this study could be a powerful tool for identifying both hepatotoxic and hepatoprotective drugs, as well as for analyzing the effects of the genes of interest to hepatic apoptosis.
Keywords: Förster resonance energy transfer; apoptosis; caspase; drug-induced liver injury; hepatoprotectant; in vivo fluorescence imaging; liver; zebrafish.