Spotlight on Zebrafish

Spotlight on Zebrafish: Translational Impact

Amatruda, J.F. Dhillon, P., Patton, E. and Ramakrishnan L. (2014) Spotlight on Zebrafish: Translational Impact. Dis. Model. Mech. 7, 731733


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In recent years, the zebrafish has emerged as an increasingly prominent model in biomedical research. To showcase the translational impact of the model across multiple disease areas, Disease Models & Mechanisms has compiled a Special Issue that includes thought-provoking reviews, original research reporting new and important insights into disease mechanisms, and novel resources that expand the zebrafish toolkit. This Editorial provides a summary of the issue’s contents, highlighting the diversity of zebrafish disease models and their clinical applications.

Zebrafish (Danio rerio) have fast made their way from pet stores and home aquaria into research laboratories worldwide. Their weekly matings produce 100 to 200 embryos that rapidly and synchronously march through embryonic development, so that within 5 days of fertilization, they are mature, feeding larvae. Zebrafish are small and inexpensive to maintain in high numbers, facilitating large-scale experimentation and cheap in vivo drug screens. Famously, the fish are transparent during early larval stages, allowing investigators to directly observe internal development and making the fish a favorite of developmental biologists since the 1960s. But in recent years, the utility of zebrafish has been proven beyond developmental fields, and they are now being found in more and more laboratories studying behavior, diabetes, heart disease, regeneration, stem cell biology—and cancer.

Critically, zebrafish can be used to identify the important pathways and processes that cause cancer in people. Common organ systems and cell types are shared between human and zebrafish, and whether induced by transgenesis or carcinogens, cancers arising from the blood (leukemia and lymphoma), pigmented cells of the skin (melanoma), and the cells that line the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma) have microscopic features that are essentially indistinguishable between humans and zebrafish.

One aim of a Disease Models & Mechanisms (DMM) ‘Special Issue’ is to highlight how emerging disease models can lead to exceptional growth in particular areas of translational research. This is especially true for this issue, Spotlight on Zebrafish: Translational Impact. The zebrafish has traditionally been used to study developmental biology. Its optical transparency for the first few weeks, high fecundity and ex vivo fertilization have meant that the fundamental processes and mechanisms of vertebrate embryo development from a single cell through to a swimming fish can be studied in exquisite detail. Over the past decade these same features have enabled the zebrafish to become a preeminent disease model and tool for studying disease mechanisms. Importantly, discoveries in zebrafish disease models are leading to new perspectives on human disease and new drugs that are entering the clinic in diverse areas from cancer to tuberculosis.

We are delighted to present an issue packed with reviews, research and resource articles from researchers at the cutting-edge of their respective disease area of interest. The issue also includes a compelling interview with Len Zon, pioneer in the zebrafish disease models community, and a unique poster representation of the translational applications of zebrafish research. Here, we summarize the contents of the issue, and give our views on what makes each article special.

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