Clock genes rescue nphp mutations in zebrafish

Hum Mol Genet. 2022 Dec 16;31(24):4143-4158. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddac160.


The zebrafish pronephros model, using morpholino oligonucleotides (MO) to deplete target genes, has been extensively used to characterize human ciliopathy phenotypes. Recently, discrepancies between MO and genetically defined mutants have questioned this approach. We analyzed zebrafish with mutations in the nphp1-4-8 module to determine the validity of MO-based results. While MO-mediated depletion resulted in glomerular cyst and cloaca malformation, these ciliopathy-typical manifestations were observed at a much lower frequency in zebrafish embryos with defined nphp mutations. All nphp1-4-8 mutant zebrafish were viable and displayed decreased manifestations in the next (F2) generation, lacking maternal RNA contribution. While genetic compensation was further supported by the observation that nphp4-deficient mutants became partially refractory to MO-based nphp4 depletion, zebrafish embryos, lacking one nphp gene, became more sensitive to MO-based depletion of additional nphp genes. Transcriptome analysis of nphp8 mutant embryos revealed an upregulation of the circadian clock genes cry1a and cry5. MO-mediated depletion of cry1a and cry5 caused ciliopathy phenotypes in wild-type embryos, while cry1a and cry5 depletion in maternal zygotic nphp8 mutant embryos increased the frequency of glomerular cysts compared to controls. Importantly, cry1a and cry5 rescued the nephropathy-related phenotypes in nphp1, nphp4 or nphp8-depleted zebrafish embryos. Our results reveal that nphp mutant zebrafish resemble the MO-based phenotypes, albeit at a much lower frequency. Rapid adaption through upregulation of circadian clock genes seems to ameliorate the loss of nphp genes, contributing to phenotypic differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cilia / genetics
  • Ciliopathies* / genetics
  • Cryptochromes* / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Zebrafish Proteins* / genetics
  • Zebrafish* / genetics


  • cry1a protein, zebrafish
  • Cryptochromes
  • Zebrafish Proteins

Supplementary concepts

  • Nephronophthisis 4