SUMMARY

Myostatin is a member of the TGF-β family that functions as a negative regulator of skeletal muscle development and growth in mammals. Recently,Myostatin has also been identified in fish; however, its role in fish muscle development and growth remains unknown. We have reported here the isolation and characterization of myostatin genomic gene from zebrafish and analysis of its expression in zebrafish embryos, larvae and adult skeletal muscles. Our data showed that myostatin was weakly expressed in early stage zebrafish embryos, and strongly expressed in swimming larvae, juvenile and skeletal muscles of adult zebrafish. Transient expression analysis revealed that the 1.2 kb zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence could direct green fluorescent protein (GFP) expression predominantly in muscle cells, suggesting that the myostatin 5′ flanking sequence contained regulatory elements required for muscle expression. To determine the biological function of Myostatin in fish, we generated a transgenic line that overexpresses the Myostatin prodomain in zebrafish skeletal muscles using a muscle-specific promoter. The Myostatin prodomain could act as a dominant negative and inhibit Myostatin function in skeletal muscles. Transgenic zebrafish expressing the Myostatin prodomain exhibited no significant change in myogenic gene expression and differentiation of slow and fast muscle cells at their embryonic stage. The transgenic fish, however,exhibited an increased number of myofibers in skeletal muscles, but no significant difference in fiber size. Together, these data demonstrate that Myostatin plays an inhibitory role in hyperplastic muscle growth in zebrafish.

Introduction

Myostatin (or GDF-8), a member of the Transforming Growth Factor-β(TGF-β) superfamily, was first identified in mice by McPherron et al.(1997) and has been demonstrated to negatively regulate skeletal muscle growth in several mammalian species. Myostatin knockout mice show a dramatic increase of skeletal muscle mass, and the increase results from a combination of hyperplasia and hypertrophy (McPherron et al., 1997). The `Double muscle' breeds of cattle that have significantly more muscle mass than standard breeds were found to carry natural mutations in the myostatin gene(McPherron and Lee, 1997; Kambadur et al., 1997; Grobet et al., 1997, 1998). In vitrostudies have demonstrated that Myostatin functions by inhibiting myoblast proliferation and differentiation (Thomas et al., 2000; Rios et al.,2001; Taylor et al.,2001; Langley et al.,2002). This is, in part, accomplished by downregulating myogenic gene expression (Langley et al.,2002; Amthor et al.,2002). The myostatin gene has been cloned from over 20 different vertebrate species including several fish species(McPherron and Lee, 1997; Rodgers and Weber, 2001; Rodgers et al., 2001;Maccatrozzo et al., 2001a,b, 2002; Kocabas et al., 2002; Roberts and Goetz, 2001; Ostbye et al., 2001; Rescan et al., 2001; Radaelli et al., 2003). In some fish species, two distinct myostatin genes were found(Roberts and Goetz, 2001; Ostbye et al., 2001; Rescan et al., 2001). Comparison of Myostatin sequences revealed that Myostatin was extremely well conserved throughout evolution. Remarkably, the murine, rat, human, porcine,chicken and turkey Myostatin sequences are all identical in the active C-terminal region of the protein, suggesting that the function of this gene might be conserved in all vertebrates. However, this has not been tested.

Like other members of the TGF-β family, Myostatin is synthesized as a prepro-peptide that undergoes two steps of proteolytic cleavage to generate the biologically active C-terminal domain(Thomas et al., 2000; Rios et al., 2001). The bioactive C-terminal domain dimerizes and binds to membrane receptors on target cells (Thomas et al.,2000). The mature TGF-β C-terminal dimer often forms an inactive complex with the N-terminal prodomain of TGF-β(McPherron and Lee, 1996). This observation suggested that the Myostatin C-terminal active domain might also exist as a secreted latent complex with the Myostatin prodomain(Lee and McPherron, 1999; Thies et al., 2001). Recently,Thies and colleagues (2001)showed that Myostatin prodomain was able to bind to the bioactive Myostatin C-terminal active domain and inhibit its biological activity, presumably by preventing Myostatin active domain from binding to its receptor on the cell surface. Transgenic mice expressing the Myostatin prodomain in muscle cells showed enhanced muscle growth similar to myostatin knockout mice(Lee and McPherron, 2001; Yang et al., 2001).

Studies in mice and cattle have demonstrated that myostatin mRNA was specifically expressed in developing somite and skeletal muscles(McPherron et al., 1997; Kambadur et al., 1997). Recent studies, however, revealed that in addition to muscle cells, myostatin mRNA was also expressed in several other tissues, such as cardiomyocytes, mammary glands and, at a lower level, in adipose tissue(Ji et al., 1998; Sharma et al., 1999). In fish, myostatin mRNA was found to be expressed in muscles, eyes, gill filaments, spleen, ovaries, gut, brain and, to a lesser extent, in testes(Rodgers et al., 2001; Maccatrozzo et al., 2001a). Myostatin expression in skeletal muscles appeared to be restricted to certain types of muscle fibers. Carlson et al.(1999) demonstrated that myostatin mRNA was mainly expressed in fast muscle fibers in mice. Roberts and Goetz (2001)reported that myostatin mRNA was primarily expressed in red muscles in brook trout, king mackerel, and yellow perch, but expression in the little tunny is in the white muscles. Consistent with the study by Roberts and Goetz(2001), Rescan et al.(2001) showed that trout myostatin-2 mRNA was predominantly expressed in red muscles. It remains to be determined if Myostatin is involved in different muscle growth of fast and slow muscles in fish.

Although myostatin cDNA has been cloned from zebrafish(McPherron and Lee, 1997), the temporal and spatial pattern of its expression is unknown. It is not clear when and where it is expressed in zebrafish embryos. Is it expressed in developing somites and skeletal muscles as in mammals? Is the muscle expression restricted to specific types of muscle fibers? Moreover, does Myostatin inhibit muscle growth in fish? We have reported here the isolation and characterization of myostatin genomic gene from zebrafish and analysis of its expression in zebrafish embryos, larvae and adult skeletal muscles. Our data showed a weak myostatin expression in early stage embryos and a strong expression in swimming larvae and juveniles, and the skeletal muscles of adult zebrafish. Overexpression of the Myostatin prodomain in skeletal muscles of transgenic zebrafish had no effect on the expression of myogenic regulatory genes. However, the adult transgenic fish showed hyperplasia in their skeletal muscles compared with non-transgenic controls.

Materials and methods

Isolation and characterization of zebrafish Myostatin genomic gene

The genomic gene of zebrafish myostatin was isolated as several DNA fragments by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) from the zebrafish GenomeWalker libraries (Du et al.,2003). A 1.2 kb DNA fragment containing the 5′ flanking sequence and part of the first exon were generated by PCR using the myostatin specific primers (myostatin E1.1/E1.2) close to the ATG start codon together with the adapter primers AP1 and AP2 at the 5′ end of the flanking region. A 2.5 kb fragment including the 3′flanking region and part of the third exon were amplified from the libraries using a set of myostatin 3′ specific primers(myostatin E3.1/E3.2) together with the AP1 and AP2 primers. The middle part of the gene, including part of the first exon, intron 1, exon 2,intron 2 and part of exon 3, was generated by regular PCR from zebrafish genomic DNA using two sets of myostatin-specific primers, myostatin E1.3/E2.1R and myostatin E2.1F/E3.3. PCR for GenomeWalker was carried out in 50 μl reaction containing 1 μmol l-1 of each primer, four dNTPs at 0.2 mmol l-1 for each,and 5 units of Advantage Tth polymerase (Clontech, Palo Alto, CA, USA). PCR was carried out in two-step cycle program with 7 cycles at 94°C for 25 s and 72°C for 3 min, and followed by 32 cycles at 94°C for 25 s and 67°C for 3 min. The regular PCR was carried out in a 50 μl reaction solution containing 1 μmol l-1 of each primer, four deoxyribonucleotide triphosphates at 0.2 mmol l-1 for each, and 2.5 units of Taq DNA polymerase (Promega, Madison, WI, USA). PCR was carried out for 30 cycles. Each cycle included 30 s at 94°C, 30 s at 60°C and 3 min at 72°C. All DNA fragments were cloned into pGEM-T Easy Vector(Promega) and sequenced with an ABI automated DNA sequencer. Sequence alignment and searches were performed using the BLAST, TRANSFAC and TFSEARCH databases: Ap1, 5′-GTAATACGACTCACTATAGGGC-3′; Ap2, 5′-ACTATAGGGCACGCGTGGT-3′; myostatin E1.1,5′-GCTGATGTTTGGAGCCTGCTTGAGTCG-3′; myostatin E1.2,5′-CTTGAGTCGGAGTTTGCTAAGAATTTG-3′; myostatin E1.3,5′-CAAATTCTTAGCAAACTCCGACTCAAG-3′; myostatin E2.1R,5′-CTGCCAAGACGTGACTCCTGCGTTCA-3′; myostatin E2.1F,5′-TGAACGCAGGAGTCACGTCTTGGCAG-3′; myostatin E3.1,5′-ACTCCCACCAAGATGTCTCCCATCAAC-3′; myostatin E3.2,5′-GGCAAAGAGCAGCTCATCTACGGCAAG-3′; myostatin E3.3,5′-CTTGCCGTAGATGATCTGCTCTTTGCC-3′;

Mapping of zebrafish myostatin gene

The chromosomal position of zebrafish myostatin gene was mapped using the LN 54 radiation hybrid panel generated by Hukriede et al.(1999). The panel was produced by irradiation of zebrafish fin fibroblasts prior to fusion with mouse B78 melanoma cells. DNA from 93 hybrid cell lines was used for PCR analysis to detect the presence of the zebrafish myostatin gene using E1.3/E2.1R primers. The PCR was done as described above. The results of the PCR from the radiation hybrid panel were scored according to Hudson et al.(1995) using a web-based interface RHVECTOR at http://mgchd1.nichd.nih.gov:8000/zfrh/beta.cgi.

Construction of myostatin-GFP plasmid

The myostatin-GFP gene construct was obtained by amplifying the 5′ flanking sequence of zebrafish myostatin by PCR using the Ap2 primer at the 5′ and a gene-specific primer myostatin5R1(5′-GCGTCGACGTTCCAAGGCGTGCTAAAGGATG-3′) based on the 5′ UTR sequence of the zebrafish myostatin gene. To minimize mutation introduced by PCR, pfu DNA polymerase was used in the PCR reaction. PCR was carried out in a 50 μl reaction solution containing 1 μmol l-1 of each primer, four deoxyribonucleotide triphosphates at 0.2 mmol l-1 for each, and 2.5 units of pfu DNA polymerase (Stratagene,La Jolla, CA, USA). PCR was carried out for 35 cycles. Each cycle included 30 s at 94°C, 30 s at 60°C and 5 min at 72°C. A SalI site was introduced at the end of the 5′ UTR primer. The 1.2 kb 5′flanking sequence was first cloned into the SmaI site of Bluescript SK. The 5′ flanking sequence was then released from the Bluescript SK vector by SalI digestion and cloned into the SalI site of the GFP construct (Du and Dienhart,2001). The resulting plasmid was confirmed by DNA sequencing and designated as myostatin-GFP.

Construction of the mylc-MSTNpro transgene encoding the myostatin prodomain

To construct the transgene encoding the Myostatin prodomain, the complete coding region of zebrafish myostatin was first amplified by PCR using pfu DNA polymerase. A BamHI and a XhoI site were introduced by the PCR primers at the 5′ and 3′, respectively. 5′-primer: 5′-GGATCCAACATGCATTTTACACAGGTTTT-3′,3′-primer: 5′-CTCGAGGGTTCATGAGCAGCCACAGCGG-3′. PCR was carried out in a 50 μl reaction solution containing 1 μmol l-1 of each primer, four deoxyribonucleotide triphosphates at 0.2 mmol l-1 each, and 2.5 units of pfu DNA polymerase (Stratagene). PCR was carried out for 30 cycles. Each cycle included 30 s at 94°C, 30 s at 60°C, and 3 min at 72°C. The PCR fragment was purified on a gel and then cloned into a plasmid Bluescript SK SmaI site. To generate the Myostatin prodomain construct, a stop codon (TAA) was introduced immediately after the RIRR proteolytic cleavage site at position 783 in the myostatin coding region using the QuickChange Site Directed Mutagenesis Kit (Stratagene). The gene construct encoding the Myostatin prodomain and its signal peptide were released from the plasmid by EcoRI digestion and cloned downstream of the rat mylcpromoter/enhancer at the EcoRI site(Donoghue et al., 1991). In addition, SV 40 polyadenylation and transcription termination signals were included at the 3′ end of the Myostatin preprodomain to ensure proper transcription termination and polyadenylation of the mRNA encoding the Myostatin prodomain.

Microinjection in zebrafish embryos

The plasmids were diluted in distilled water to a final concentration of 50μg ml-1. Phenol Red was added to the injection solution at a final concentration of 0.1% to facilitate visualization during microinjection. Approximately 2 nl of DNA solution were microinjected into the cytoplasm of zebrafish embryos at the one- or two-cell stage. Microinjection was carried out under a dissection microscope (MZ8, Leica, Deerfield, IL, USA) using a PLI-100 pico-injector (Medical System Corp., New York, NY, USA). 500 embryos were injected for each construct.

Whole-mount in situ hybridization and antibody staining

The whole-mount in situ hybridization and antibody staining was carried out as previously described (Du and Dienhart, 2001). The Dig-labeled probe was synthesized by T7 RNA polymerase in vitro using BamHI linearized plasmid pBSMSTN that contains the full-length zebrafish myostatin cDNA(McPherron and Lee, 1997). For embryos of 24 h and older, proteinase K treatment was performed to enhance the permeability of the embryos, as described by Du and Dienhart(2001).

Expression analysis of the endogenous myostatin gene and the prodomain transgene by RT-PCR

Total RNA was extracted from zebrafish Danio rerio embryos,larvae, juvenile and adult muscle with TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen Corp.,Carlsbad, CA, USA) according to the manufacturer's instructions. cDNA was synthesized using the first strand cDNA synthesis kit (Life Sciences Inc., St Petersburg, FL, USA). The expression of myostatin mRNA was analyzed by reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR using two pairs of myostatinprimers. One pair is a set of transgene-specific primers(myostatin5pc/E2.1r). The myostatin5pc primer(5′-CTGCAGCCCGGATCCAACATGCAT-3′) was based on part of the 5′UTR sequence of the rat mylc promoter and part of the myostatin coding region near the ATG site. The E2.1R primer(5′-CTGCCAAGACGTGACTCCTGCGTTCA-3′) was based on part of the sequence in myostatin exon 2. PCR using this pair of primers generated a 627 bp fragment from the mylc-myostatinprotransgene. Another pair of primers was myostatin E1.3/E2.1R. E1.3(5′-CAAATTCTTAGCAAACTCCGACTCAAG-3′) was based on myostatin exon 1, while primer E2.1R was from the exon 2 sequence shown above. PCR using this pair of primers generated a 432 bp fragment from the endogenous myostatin gene and the prodomain transgene. Elongation factor 1-α (Ef-1α) was used as RT-PCR control. The primers for the Ef-1α 5′ and 3′ primers were EF-1α-5′(GCATACATCAAGAAGATCGGC) and Ef-1α-3′ (GCAGCCTTCTGTGCAGACTTTG),respectively. PCR was carried out for 35 cycles (30 s at 94°C, 30 s at 60°C and 1 min at 72°C) in a 25 μl reaction solution containing 1μmol l-1 of each primer, four deoxyribonucleotide triphosphates at 0.2 mmol l-1 for each, and 0.5 units of Taq DNA polymerase(Promega). 20 μl of the amplified product was analyzed by electrophoresis on a 1% agarose gel.

PCR screening of founder transgenic fish and transgenic offspring

To screen germline transgenic fish, DNA was extracted from a batch of 100 F1 embryos from each cross. Briefly, 500 μl of lysis buffer (50 mmol l-1 KCl, 10 mmol l-1 Tris, pH 8.8, 1.5 mmol l-1 MgCl2, 0.1% Triton X-100) was added to a group of 100 embryos, 48 h.p.f. (hours post fertilization). The embryos were gently homogenized in the lysis buffer. The homogenate was boiled for 5 min, and was then digested with proteinase K (100 μg ml-1) for 1 h at 55°C. Proteinase K was inactivated by boiling for 10 min after the digestion. The samples were centrifuged at 12 000 g for 5 min and 1.5 μl of the supernatant was used for the PCR reaction. PCR was carried out in a 25 μl reaction solution containing 1 μmol l-1 of each primer, four deoxyribonucleotide triphosphates at 0.2 mmol l-1 for each, and 0.5 units of Taq DNA polymerase (Promega). PCR was carried out for 35 cycles. Each cycle included 30 s at 94°C, 30 s at 60°C and 1 min at 72°C. 10 μl of the amplified product was analyzed by electrophoresis on a 1% agarose gel.

To screen adult transgenic offspring, DNA was extracted from a small portion of the caudal fin as described (Du and Dienhart, 2001) and used for PCR analysis. PCR was carried out using transgene-specific primers (mylc-p2/E2.1R) based on the mylc5′ flanking sequence (mylc-p2,5′-CACCACTGCTCTTCCAAGTGTCA-3′) and part of exon 2 (E2.1R)of zebrafish myostatin. This PCR yields a 704 bp product. Control PCR primers HH-F (5′-GGACGGTGACACTTGGTGATG-3′) and HH-R(5′-CGAGTGGATGGAAAGAGTCTC-3′) were derived from the sense and antisense strand of the tiggy winkle hedgehog exon 3 sequence,respectively. PCR using this set of control primers produced a 615 bp DNA fragment. PCR reaction was carried out as described above for the embryos.

Real-time PCR analysis of myogenic gene expression

Expression of MyoD, Myf5 and myogenin mRNAs was analyzed by real-time PCR in transgenic and non-transgenic fish at 2, 7, 45 and 240 days of age. For 2- and 7-day-old fish, total RNA was extacted from 100 embryos or larvae using TRIzol. For 45-day-old fish, individual fish were used for RNA extraction. For 240-day-old fish, ∼60 mg of muscle tissue was used for RNA extraction. The total RNA was digested with DNAses to remove endogenous DNA contamination. First-strand cDNA was synthesized by reverse transcriptase using oligo-dT primer (RETROscript Kit, Ambion, Austin, TX,USA). Real-time RT-PCR was carried out using the following primers. MyoD was amplified using MyoD 5′- and 3′-primers. The PCR product was a 288 bp fragment. Similarly, Myf5 and myogenin were amplified with their specific primers that generated a 482 bp and 319 bp fragment, respectively: MyoD 5′:5′-AGACGGAACAGCTATGACAGCTCT-3′; MyoD 3′,5′-ATTTTAAAGCACTTGATAAATG-3′; Myf-5 5′,5′-CACTCAGAAACCTTCAACACCAA-3′; Myf5 3′,5′-ATGCTCTCTGAGCAGCTGGAGGA-3′; Myogenin 5′,5′-TCTAGTGATCAGGGCTCTGGCAGCA-3′; Myogenin 3′,5′-TAAGCCCTCCAAGGCTTGTCTAACTTGC-3′.

Real-time PCR was carried on Sequence Detector (PRISM 7700; ABI, Foster City, CA, USA). Each reaction (50 μl) contained 3 μl cDNA and primers at a final concentration of 2 ng μl-1. SYBR Green was included in the PCR reaction as described in the protocol of SYBR Green PCR (ABI). The samples were first heated to 50°C for 2 min followed by 95°C for 10 min. The PCR reactions were carried out for 45 cycles at 95°C for 15 s and 60°C for 1 min. SDS v1.7a software was used to define the cycle in which each sample attained the threshold value.

Growth evaluations and determination of muscle fiber size and number

To determine the muscle structure in transgenic zebrafish at juvenile and adult stages, F2 transgenic fish were generated by crossing transgenic males with wild-type females. Approximately 100 F2 fish,including both transgenic and non-transgenic fish, were raised in the same tank. These fish were weighed at 2.5, 3 and 5.5 months of age, after anesthetization with 0.016% tricaine at two time points. The transgenic fish were identified by PCR using DNA extracted from the tail fins. Mean body mass was calculated for transgenic and non-transgenic males and females of different ages. For fiber size and number analysis, five individual fish from each group (female or male and transgene or wild type) were fixed with Bouin's solution for 24 h followed by routine paraffin sectioning and Haematoxylin/Eosin staining. A horizontal section at the base of the first pin of the anal fin was selected for quantification of the number of muscle fibers and measurement of the diameter of muscle fibers. A Student t-test was used to determine whether significant differences existed between wild-type and transgenic fish.

Results

Isolation and characterization of myostatin gene from zebrafish

To better understand the myostatin gene structure, function and regulation of expression in fish, the complete genomic sequence of zebrafish myostatin was isolated by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) using the GenomeWalker method as described in Materials and methods. Sequence analysis revealed that the zebrafish myostatin gene spanned 6.4 kb, including a 1.2 kb 5′ flanking sequence and a 5.2 kb transcriptional unit that includes the 3′ flanking sequence (GenBank accession number AY323521). Comparison with the zebrafish myostatin cDNA sequence revealed that the zebrafish myostatin gene contained three exons and two introns(Fig. 1A). The intron and exon junctions are highly conserved with myostatin genes of other vertebrate species. Sequence analysis of the zebrafish myostatin5′ flanking sequence identified a putative `TATA' box at position 110 bp upstream from the ATG start site (Fig. 1B). In addition, several putative MyoD binding sites (CAxxTG)that confer muscle-specificity, known as E boxes, were identified in the 5′-flanking region (Fig. 1B). Two of the potential E boxes (E4, E5) are closely located in the 5′ flanking sequence of the zebrafish myostatin gene. Of particular interest, two closely linked E boxes (E5, E6) were present in a similar position in the bovine myostatin promoter(Fig. 1A), and critical for its muscle-specific expression (Spiller et al., 2002). Considering that MyoD often functions as a dimer, the presence of closely linked E boxes in the conserved region of myostatin gene promoters suggests that MyoD may be involved in regulation of myostatin gene expression.

Fig. 1.

The genomic structure and promoter sequence of zebrafish myostatingene. (A) The zebrafish myostatin gene contains three exons and two introns with conserved exon and intron boundaries. Sequence analysis identified seven putative E box sites in the 5′ flanking sequence. Some of the E boxes are conserved compared with that in the bovine myostatin promoter. (B) The DNA sequence of zebrafish myostatin gene 5′ flanking region. The putative TATA box and the seven putative E box sites are underlined in the DNA sequence. The GenBank accession number is AY323521.

Fig. 1.

The genomic structure and promoter sequence of zebrafish myostatingene. (A) The zebrafish myostatin gene contains three exons and two introns with conserved exon and intron boundaries. Sequence analysis identified seven putative E box sites in the 5′ flanking sequence. Some of the E boxes are conserved compared with that in the bovine myostatin promoter. (B) The DNA sequence of zebrafish myostatin gene 5′ flanking region. The putative TATA box and the seven putative E box sites are underlined in the DNA sequence. The GenBank accession number is AY323521.

Zebrafish is widely viewed as an excellent system for genetic study of gene function. To map the position of the myostatin gene in zebrafish for future identification of potential myostatin mutants, linkage group analysis was carried out using the LN 54 radiation hybrid panel generated by Hukriede et al. (1999). The results placed the zebrafish myostatin gene in chromosome 9, at approximately 0.5 centiRay (1 cR isapproximately 148 kb) from the genetic marker Z8363.

Characterization of myostatin mRNA expression in zebrafish

There is much evidence that myostatin mRNA is primarily expressed in developing somite and skeletal muscles in mammals. Recent studies in fish have also demonstrated that myostatin mRNA is predominantly expressed in skeletal muscles. However, its expression pattern in early stage fish embryos is not clear. A clear understanding of myostatin expression in fish embryos would provide important insights into the role(s) of Myostatin in regulating muscle development and growth in fish. To determine the temporal and spatial pattern of myostatin mRNA expression in zebrafish embryos, whole-mount in situ hybridization was carried out with zebrafish embryos at several developmental stages (14 h post fertilization to 4 days post fertilization). The results showed that myostatin mRNA could not be detected by in situ hybridization in zebrafish embryos(Fig. 2A,B), suggesting that myostatin mRNA was not expressed or only at a very low level in early stage zebrafish embryos. To confirm the in situ data and to further investigate its temporal pattern of expression in zebrafish, RT-PCR was used to analyze myostatin expression using total RNA from whole zebrafish embryos, larvae, juvenile and skeletal muscles of adult zebrafish. The results confirmed that myostatin mRNA was weakly expressed in the early stage zebrafish embryos (Fig. 2C). However, compared with day-4 embryo, myostatin mRNA expression appeared to be increased in 2-week-old swimming larvae, 1-month-old juveniles and skeletal muscle of 3-month-old adult zebrafish based on results from regular RT-PCR (Fig. 2C).

Fig. 2.

Expression of myostatin in zebrafish embryos, larvae, juvenile and adult. (A,B) In situ hybridization showing little or no myostatin expression in developing somites of zebrafish embryos at 24 h.p.f. (hours post-fertilization). (C) RT-PCR results showing myostatin (MSTN) expression in early stage zebrafish embryos, 1-4 d(days post-fertilization), swimming larvae (16 d), juvenile (1 month) and adult skeletal muscles (3 months). Elongation factor 1α (Ef-1α)was used as control for RT-PCR. 16d, 1m and 3m are duplicated.

Fig. 2.

Expression of myostatin in zebrafish embryos, larvae, juvenile and adult. (A,B) In situ hybridization showing little or no myostatin expression in developing somites of zebrafish embryos at 24 h.p.f. (hours post-fertilization). (C) RT-PCR results showing myostatin (MSTN) expression in early stage zebrafish embryos, 1-4 d(days post-fertilization), swimming larvae (16 d), juvenile (1 month) and adult skeletal muscles (3 months). Elongation factor 1α (Ef-1α)was used as control for RT-PCR. 16d, 1m and 3m are duplicated.

Analysis of the zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence revealed several putative E box sites that may be involved in its muscle-specific expression. To determine if the 5′ flanking sequence could drive gene expression in muscle cells, the 1.2 kb DNA sequence of zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking region was ligated with the GFP reporter gene, and the DNA construct myostatin-GFP(Fig. 3) was microinjected into zebrafish embryos for transient expression analysis. As indicated by GFP expression and anti-GFP antibody staining in the injected embryos(Fig. 3A,B,D,E), the zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence strongly targeted GFP expression in muscle cells of zebrafish embryos. Approximately 69% (N=148) of the injected embryos showed muscle expression, although some of the embryos also showed weak non-muscle expression in floor plate and head regions(Fig. 3C,F). These results indicate that the zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence contained regulatory elements required for muscle expression and possibly other regulatory sequences for myostatin expression in other tissues.

Fig. 3.

Structure of myostatin-GFP (green fluorescent protein) construct and activity of myostatin promoter in zebrafish embryos. (Top) The myostatin-GFP construct contains a 1.2 kb zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence including the 5′UTR(5′-untranslated region). To ensure proper processing of the RNA transcripts, the rabbit β-globin intron-2 sequence (in) and the SV40 polyadenylation and transcription termination signals are included in the myogenin-GFP construct. (A) GFP expression in myofibers and forebrain region of zebrafish injected with the myostatin-GFP construct at 24 h.p.f. (hours post-fertilization). Forebrain expression is indicated by the white arrow. (B) Higher magnification view showing GFP expression in muscle fibers. (C) GFP expression in the floor plate (white arrows) of zebrafish embryos injected with the myostatin-GFP construct at 24 h.p.f. (D)Whole-mount anti-GFP staining confirming GFP expression in myofibers and brain(arrow) of injected zebrafish embryos (24 h.p.f.). (E) Higher magnification view of anti-GFP staining in muscle fibers. (F) Expression of GFP in the forebrain region (arrow) of a myostatin-GFP injected embryo, revealed by whole-mount antibody staining. Scale bars, 500 μm (A,D); 200 μm(B,C,E,F).

Fig. 3.

Structure of myostatin-GFP (green fluorescent protein) construct and activity of myostatin promoter in zebrafish embryos. (Top) The myostatin-GFP construct contains a 1.2 kb zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence including the 5′UTR(5′-untranslated region). To ensure proper processing of the RNA transcripts, the rabbit β-globin intron-2 sequence (in) and the SV40 polyadenylation and transcription termination signals are included in the myogenin-GFP construct. (A) GFP expression in myofibers and forebrain region of zebrafish injected with the myostatin-GFP construct at 24 h.p.f. (hours post-fertilization). Forebrain expression is indicated by the white arrow. (B) Higher magnification view showing GFP expression in muscle fibers. (C) GFP expression in the floor plate (white arrows) of zebrafish embryos injected with the myostatin-GFP construct at 24 h.p.f. (D)Whole-mount anti-GFP staining confirming GFP expression in myofibers and brain(arrow) of injected zebrafish embryos (24 h.p.f.). (E) Higher magnification view of anti-GFP staining in muscle fibers. (F) Expression of GFP in the forebrain region (arrow) of a myostatin-GFP injected embryo, revealed by whole-mount antibody staining. Scale bars, 500 μm (A,D); 200 μm(B,C,E,F).

Production of transgenic zebrafish expressing myostatin prodomain in skeletal muscles

To investigate Myostatin function in fish muscle development and growth, a transgenic approach was used to express Myostatin prodomain in zebrafish muscle cells that could suppress Myostatin function. To identify a strong muscle-specific promoter with which to target the expression of the Myostatin prodomain in zebrafish skeletal muscles, we analyzed whether or not the rat myosin light chain (mylc) gene promoter and its 1/3 enhancer were muscle-specific in zebrafish. The mylc promoter/enhancer has been shown to be muscle-specific in other vertebrates(Donoghue et al., 1991; Lee and McPherron, 2001). The rat mylc gene promoter/enhancer was linked with the GFP reporter gene(Fig. 4A). The mylc-GFP construct was microinjected into zebrafish embryos. GFP expression was analyzed by direct observation using a fluorescence microscope or immunostaining using anti-GFP antibody. Over 80% (N=157) of the injected embryos exhibited muscle-specific GFP expression(Fig. 4C,D). The remaining embryos that failed to express GFP in muscle cells did not exhibit GFP expression in other tissues. These data demonstrated that the rat mylc promoter/enhancer was muscle-specific in zebrafish and could be used to drive the expression of Myostatin prodomain in zebrafish muscle cells.

Fig. 4.

Transient expression analysis of the rat myosin light chain(mylc) promoter in zebrafish embryos and structure of the mylc-GFP (A) and mylc-MSTNpro (B)transgenes. The mylc-GFP gene construct (A) contains a 1.3 kb rat myosin light chain promoter (mylc) at the 5′, the 0.8 kb GFP coding region, a 0.8 kb SV40 poly(A) signal, and a mylc 1/3 enhancer from the rat mylc gene (Donoghue et al., 1991). The mylc-MSTNpro gene construct (B) contains the 1.3 kb rat myosin light chain promoter(mylc) at the 5′, the 0.8 kb prodomain coding region of zebrafish myostatin (MSTNpro), the 0.8 kb SV40 polyA signal, and the mylc 1/3 enhancer from the rat mylc gene. The ATG start codon, RIRR proteolytic site and the TAA stop codon are indicated. (C,D) Muscle-specific expression of GFP reporter gene in 24 h.p.f. zebrafish embryos injected with the mylc-GFP: (C)fluorescence, (D) immunostaining. Scale bar, 100 μm. The mosaic pattern of expression is typical for transient expression studies in zebrafish embryos(Westerfield et al., 1992; Du and Dienhart, 2001).

Fig. 4.

Transient expression analysis of the rat myosin light chain(mylc) promoter in zebrafish embryos and structure of the mylc-GFP (A) and mylc-MSTNpro (B)transgenes. The mylc-GFP gene construct (A) contains a 1.3 kb rat myosin light chain promoter (mylc) at the 5′, the 0.8 kb GFP coding region, a 0.8 kb SV40 poly(A) signal, and a mylc 1/3 enhancer from the rat mylc gene (Donoghue et al., 1991). The mylc-MSTNpro gene construct (B) contains the 1.3 kb rat myosin light chain promoter(mylc) at the 5′, the 0.8 kb prodomain coding region of zebrafish myostatin (MSTNpro), the 0.8 kb SV40 polyA signal, and the mylc 1/3 enhancer from the rat mylc gene. The ATG start codon, RIRR proteolytic site and the TAA stop codon are indicated. (C,D) Muscle-specific expression of GFP reporter gene in 24 h.p.f. zebrafish embryos injected with the mylc-GFP: (C)fluorescence, (D) immunostaining. Scale bar, 100 μm. The mosaic pattern of expression is typical for transient expression studies in zebrafish embryos(Westerfield et al., 1992; Du and Dienhart, 2001).

A gene encoding the zebrafish Myostatin prodomain was linked with the mylc promoter/enhancer (Fig. 4B). The resultant construct mylc-myostatinpro was microinjected into zebrafish embryos for transgenic fish production. Two independent germline transgenic founders (1 and 33) were identified (out of 184) by PCR screening of their F1 embryos. To determine the temporal and spatial expression of the transgene encoding the Myostatin prodomain, whole-mount in situ hybridization was used to analyze the expression of myostatin prodomain transgene in F1 embryos at 14, 16 and 24 h.p.f. Because the expression of the endogenous myostatin gene was undetectable by whole-mount in situ hybridization at these stages(Fig. 2A,B), the in situ expression pattern, thus represented the expression of the transgene. The results showed that the myostatin transgene was strongly expressed in developing somite and embryonic muscles of the transgenic fish embryos (Fig. 5A,C,E). The two transgenic lines exhibited different patterns of transgene expression. In line 33, the transgene was exclusively expressed in skeletal muscles, and it appeared that the expression was fast-fiber specific(Fig. 5H,I). In contrast, line 1 showed expression in skeletal muscle and weak expression in the brain and spinal cord (data not shown). Because line 33 exhibited a strong muscle-specific expression, this transgenic line was primarily used in this study.

Fig. 5.

Expression analysis of the mylc-MSTNprotransgene in F1 transgenic embryos by in situhybridization. The expression of the transgene was visualized by in situ hybridization with a probe that could hybridize with transcripts of both the endogenous myostatin gene and the prodomain transgene.(A,C,E,G-I) Expression of Myostatin prodomain transcripts in transgenic fish embryos of line 33. Strong expression of Myostatin prodomain was found in transgenic fish embryos. (B,D,F,J) In situ results of non-transgenic zebrafish embryos using the same probe. All embryos were analyzed at 24 h.p.f. except G (16 h.p.f.). (H-J) Cross sections showing the fast muscle-specific expression of the transgene directed by the rat mylc promoter. Note the absence of staining in the slow muscle pioneer region at the myoseptum region of the somite (arrow). Scale bars, 500 μm (A-D); 200 μm (E,F);150 μm (G-J).

Fig. 5.

Expression analysis of the mylc-MSTNprotransgene in F1 transgenic embryos by in situhybridization. The expression of the transgene was visualized by in situ hybridization with a probe that could hybridize with transcripts of both the endogenous myostatin gene and the prodomain transgene.(A,C,E,G-I) Expression of Myostatin prodomain transcripts in transgenic fish embryos of line 33. Strong expression of Myostatin prodomain was found in transgenic fish embryos. (B,D,F,J) In situ results of non-transgenic zebrafish embryos using the same probe. All embryos were analyzed at 24 h.p.f. except G (16 h.p.f.). (H-J) Cross sections showing the fast muscle-specific expression of the transgene directed by the rat mylc promoter. Note the absence of staining in the slow muscle pioneer region at the myoseptum region of the somite (arrow). Scale bars, 500 μm (A-D); 200 μm (E,F);150 μm (G-J).

The inheritance of the transgene in line 33 was analyzed in the F1, F2 and F3 generations. The transgene was inherited to the F2 and F3 generations in a Mendelian fashion, suggesting that it was integrated in a single site (data not shown). To determine if the transgene was expressed in skeletal muscles of adult transgenic fish, two sets of RT-PCR were employed to analyze the expression of the transgene and the endogenous myostatin gene(Fig. 6). The results showed that the transgene was strongly expressed in the skeletal muscles of adult transgenic fish. RT-PCR using the transgene-specific primers produced a predicted PCR product from the skeletal muscles of the transgenic fish(Fig. 6). In contrast, no PCR product of the transgene was found in non-transgenic fish. RT-PCR using another set of primers that amplify RNA transcripts from both the transgene and the endogenous myostatin gene generated a PCR product from both the transgenic and the non-transgenic fish(Fig. 6). Moreover, there were clearly more PCR products generated from the transgenic fish than the non-transgenic control (Fig. 6). This was probably because the transgenic fish contained RNA transcripts from both the endogenous myostatin gene and the transgene, whereas in the non-transgenic fish, the PCR product was solely derived from the endogenous gene transcripts. The PCR fragments were cloned,sequenced and confirmed to be derived from the myostatin gene or the transgene. Together with the in situ data(Fig. 5), these studies demonstrated that the myostatin prodomain transgene was inherited and expressed in a muscle-specific manner in the developing somite of transgenic zebrafish embryos. Moreover, this transgene is strongly expressed in adult skeletal muscles of the transgenic fish.

Fig. 6.

Expression of the prodomain transgene and the endogenous myostatingene in skeletal muscles of adult transgenic and non-transgenic zebrafish. For each sample, RT-PCR was performed using three different sets of primers that are specific for the transgene (mylc-MSTNpro),the endogenous myostatin gene and the transgene (Total MSTN), and the elongation factor 1-α (Ef-1α) mRNA transcripts, respectively. Lane 1, RT-PCR results using mylc-myostatinpro plasmid DNA as positive control. Lanes 2 and 3, RTPCR results showing the expression of the endogenous gene (total MSTN) and EF-1α in the skeletal muscle of two individual non-transgenic fish (2 and 3). Lanes 4 and 5, RT-PCR results showing the expression of the Myostatin prodomain transgene(mylc-MSTNpro), the endogenous myostatingene and the transgene (total MSTN) and the EF-1α. Lane 6, RT minus control of non-transgenic fish. Lane 7, RT minus control of transgenic fish.

Fig. 6.

Expression of the prodomain transgene and the endogenous myostatingene in skeletal muscles of adult transgenic and non-transgenic zebrafish. For each sample, RT-PCR was performed using three different sets of primers that are specific for the transgene (mylc-MSTNpro),the endogenous myostatin gene and the transgene (Total MSTN), and the elongation factor 1-α (Ef-1α) mRNA transcripts, respectively. Lane 1, RT-PCR results using mylc-myostatinpro plasmid DNA as positive control. Lanes 2 and 3, RTPCR results showing the expression of the endogenous gene (total MSTN) and EF-1α in the skeletal muscle of two individual non-transgenic fish (2 and 3). Lanes 4 and 5, RT-PCR results showing the expression of the Myostatin prodomain transgene(mylc-MSTNpro), the endogenous myostatingene and the transgene (total MSTN) and the EF-1α. Lane 6, RT minus control of non-transgenic fish. Lane 7, RT minus control of transgenic fish.

Inhibiting myostatin function induced hyperplasia in skeletal muscles of transgenic fish

The development and growth of skeletal muscles were analyzed in the transgenic fish at the morphological, histological and molecular levels. Overall, there were no obvious morphological changes with the transgenic fish. Transgenic fish showed normal development and growth. To determine if inhibiting Myostatin function affected the expression of myogenic regulatory genes, we analyzed the expression of MyoD, myogenin and Myf-5 in transgenic fish embryos by in situ hybridization. There was no significant change in MyoD, myogenin or Myf5expression in transgenic zebrafish embryos(Fig. 7). In addition, we analyzed the formation of embryonic myofibers by F59 and MF20 antibody staining, and found no difference between transgenic and non-transgenic fish(data not shown). These results demonstrate that Myostatin may not be involved in myogenesis in early stage embryos. To determine if inhibiting Myostatin function affected the expression of myogenic regulatory genes at later stage when myostatin mRNA expression was increased, we analyzed the expression of MyoD, myogenin and Myf-5 in transgenic fish at days 7, 45 and 240 by quantitative RT-PCR. The results showed the expression levels of MyoD, myogenin and Myf-5 were very similar between transgenic and non-transgenic fish (Fig. 8, Table 1). Statistical analysis did not reveal any significant difference in myogenic gene expression between transgenic and non-transgenic fish at 2, 7, 45 and 240 days of age.

Fig. 7.

In situ hybridizations comparing myogenic gene expression in transgenic and non-transgenic fish embryos. (A,B,G,H) Myf-5expression in transgenic (TG; B,H) and wild-type (WT; A,G) zebrafish embryos.(C,D,I,J) MyoD expression in transgenic (D,J) and wild-type (C,I)zebrafish embryos. (E,F,K,L) myogenin expression in transgenic (F,L)and wild-type (E,K) zebrafish embryos. (A-F) 16 h.p.f. embryos; scale bar, 200μm. (G-L) 24 h.p.f. embryos; scale bar, 500 μm.

Fig. 7.

In situ hybridizations comparing myogenic gene expression in transgenic and non-transgenic fish embryos. (A,B,G,H) Myf-5expression in transgenic (TG; B,H) and wild-type (WT; A,G) zebrafish embryos.(C,D,I,J) MyoD expression in transgenic (D,J) and wild-type (C,I)zebrafish embryos. (E,F,K,L) myogenin expression in transgenic (F,L)and wild-type (E,K) zebrafish embryos. (A-F) 16 h.p.f. embryos; scale bar, 200μm. (G-L) 24 h.p.f. embryos; scale bar, 500 μm.

Fig. 8.

Profile of real-time PCR showing MyoD, Myf-5, myogenin (Myog) and Ef-1α expression in transgenic (MSTN) fish and non-transgenic(WT) control at day 7.

Fig. 8.

Profile of real-time PCR showing MyoD, Myf-5, myogenin (Myog) and Ef-1α expression in transgenic (MSTN) fish and non-transgenic(WT) control at day 7.

Table 1.

Comparison of myogenic gene expression in transgenic and non-transgenic fish by cycle threshold of real-time polymerase chain reaction

AgeFishEF-1αMyoDMyf-5myogenin
Day 2 Non-transgenic 14.01 20.76 25.36 24.16 
 Transgenic 14.04 20.4 25.33 24.01 
Day 7 Non-transgenic 14.03 21.59 25.22 24.2 
 Transgenic 14.02 21.33 25.22 23.54 
1.5 months a Non-transgenic 16.0±0.11 21.4±0.77 25.3±0.73 23.5±3.00 
 Transgenic 16.9±0.91 20.9±0.32 24.7±0.47 23.8±0.50 
8 months a Non-transgenic 14.03±0.06 18.9±0.35 23.5±0.54 20.9±1.54 
 Transgenic 14.3±0.24 19.0±0.45 23.5±1.57 22.3±0.64 
AgeFishEF-1αMyoDMyf-5myogenin
Day 2 Non-transgenic 14.01 20.76 25.36 24.16 
 Transgenic 14.04 20.4 25.33 24.01 
Day 7 Non-transgenic 14.03 21.59 25.22 24.2 
 Transgenic 14.02 21.33 25.22 23.54 
1.5 months a Non-transgenic 16.0±0.11 21.4±0.77 25.3±0.73 23.5±3.00 
 Transgenic 16.9±0.91 20.9±0.32 24.7±0.47 23.8±0.50 
8 months a Non-transgenic 14.03±0.06 18.9±0.35 23.5±0.54 20.9±1.54 
 Transgenic 14.3±0.24 19.0±0.45 23.5±1.57 22.3±0.64 
a

Threshold values of 1.5 and 8 months fish are mean values of the PCR threshold of 3 individuals ± s.e.m.

To determine whether or not Myostatin plays a role in regulating muscle growth in adult fish, F2 transgenic fish were generated by crossing F1 (hemizygous) transgenic males with transgenic females, or transgenic males with non-transgenic females. The F2 generations from these crosses contained both homozygous and hemizygous transgenic fish as well as non-transgenic offspring. The body mass and muscle structures of the transgenic and non-transgenic fish were compared at several developmental stages. The hemizygous transgenic fish did not grow significantly larger than the non-transgenic siblings when analyzed at 3 and 5.5 months of age(Table 2). However, there appeared to be a significant increase in mass (10-15%) when homozygous transgenic fish were included in the analysis at 2.5 months of age(Table 2).

Table 2.

Body mass comparison between transgenic fish and non-transgenic siblings

Non-transgenic
Transgenic
Age (months)GenderNumberMass (g)dNumberMass (g)dPvaluee
2.5a Female 22 0.462±0.092 46 0.531±0.150 <0.001* 
 Male 26 0.336±0.112 34 0.361±0.330 >0.200 
3b Female 24 0.492±0.123 14 0.441±0.094 >0.100 
 Male 28 0.356±0.072 19 0.340±0.060 >0.400 
5.5c Female 38 0.830±0.242 18 0.784±0.298 >0.500 
 Male 33 0.522±0.060 37 0.535±0.096 >0.400 
Non-transgenic
Transgenic
Age (months)GenderNumberMass (g)dNumberMass (g)dPvaluee
2.5a Female 22 0.462±0.092 46 0.531±0.150 <0.001* 
 Male 26 0.336±0.112 34 0.361±0.330 >0.200 
3b Female 24 0.492±0.123 14 0.441±0.094 >0.100 
 Male 28 0.356±0.072 19 0.340±0.060 >0.400 
5.5c Female 38 0.830±0.242 18 0.784±0.298 >0.500 
 Male 33 0.522±0.060 37 0.535±0.096 >0.400 

The three different groups of fish were raised in three separate tanks.

a

F2 offspring of a hemizygous transgenic female crossed with a hemizygous transgenic male. It is worth noting that there is a significant increase in mass in female transgenic fish compared with controls at 2.5 months old. Approximately, one third of the transgenic fish represent homozygous transgenic fish.

b,c

F2 offspring of a hemizygous transgenic male crossed with a non-transgenic female.

d

Mass is shown as mean ± s.e.m.

e

P values are the results of a t-test; *indicates a significant difference.

To determine whether or not the muscle growth was affected in the transgenic fish, samples of representative fish from transgenic and non-transgenic sibling were sectioned to determine fiber size and for number analysis at 3 and 5.5 months. The results showed that the transgenic fish had approximately 10% more myofibers than the non-transgenic fish that were in the similar body mass group (Table 3). To determine whether inhibiting Myostatin function caused hypertrophic muscle growth, fiber size was compared in transgenic and non-transgenic fish. Because the fiber size varies significantly in different cross section regions, we chose to compare myofibers from a defined region of the epaxial muscles where the fibers appear to be relatively uniform in size. The data revealed that there was no significant difference between fiber size in transgenic and non-transgenic fish(Table 3). Together, these data indicate that Myostatin may play an inhibitory role in hyperplastic myofiber formation, but has little effect on controlling the size of myofibers in zebrafish. Therefore, inhibiting Myostatin function in zebrafish results in a small but significant increase in muscle hyperplasia, but not in hypertrophy.

Table 3.

Comparison of mass, myofiber number and fiber size between transgenic and non-transgenic fish

Mass (g)
Fast musclea
Slow musclea
Total fibera
Fiber size(μm)b
FishNon-transgneicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenic
3 months male           
0.435 0.460 NA NA NA NA 2621 3229 36.8±5.5 35.5±2.9 
0.415 0.413 2331 2812 36.5±6.3 39.0±6.2 
0.351 0.390 2355 2537 48.7±5.3 33.6±4.1 
0.336 0.342 2336 2683 43.1±6.4 37.8±5.2 
0.280 0.270 1932 2296 38.6±5.9 38.1±6.6 
Averagec 0.363±0.028 0.375±0.032 2315±110 2711±155 40.7±7.5 36.8±5.5 
Pvalued 0.793    0.071  0.174  
5.5 months female           
1.302 1.343 2280 2551 425 483 2705 3034 59.8±12.3 65.6±11.6 
1.056 1.101 2246 2683 394 296 2640 2979 59.5±10.0 64.9±11.6 
0.908 0.930 2191 2389 325 359 2516 2748 64.2±11.6 59.5±13.0 
0.866 0.848 2226 2282 371 293 2597 2575 54.0±14.7 58.2±10.9 
0.751 0.777 1947 2299 424 345 2371 2644 66.9±16.6 60.2±12.0 
Averagec 0.977±0.095 1.000±0.101 2178±60 2441±77 387.8±18.6 355.2±34.5 2566±58 2796±91 61.4±14.2 61.7±12.3 
Pvalued 0.871  0.027*  0.43  0.064  0.377  
5.5 months male           
0.615 0.626 2210 2386 415 475 2625 2801 72.2±12.5 70.0±12.2 
0.587 0.582 2196 2438 400 374 2596 2722 61.2±11.0 59.3±13.5 
0.558 0.561 2153 2248 338 454 2491 2702 58.9±9.5 71.5±8.7 
0.528 0.526 1879 2166 347 400 2226 2566 64.4±10.5 59.5±8.9 
0.488 0.490 1849 2127 294 315 2143 2442 57.4±10.7 62.5±10.7 
Averagec 0.555±0.022 0.557±0.023 2057±80 2273±60 358.8±21.9 403.6±28.6 2416±98 2647±64 62.8±12.2 64.6±12.2 
Pvalued 0.957  0.063  0.249  0.084  0.65  
Mass (g)
Fast musclea
Slow musclea
Total fibera
Fiber size(μm)b
FishNon-transgneicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenicNon-transgenicTransgenic
3 months male           
0.435 0.460 NA NA NA NA 2621 3229 36.8±5.5 35.5±2.9 
0.415 0.413 2331 2812 36.5±6.3 39.0±6.2 
0.351 0.390 2355 2537 48.7±5.3 33.6±4.1 
0.336 0.342 2336 2683 43.1±6.4 37.8±5.2 
0.280 0.270 1932 2296 38.6±5.9 38.1±6.6 
Averagec 0.363±0.028 0.375±0.032 2315±110 2711±155 40.7±7.5 36.8±5.5 
Pvalued 0.793    0.071  0.174  
5.5 months female           
1.302 1.343 2280 2551 425 483 2705 3034 59.8±12.3 65.6±11.6 
1.056 1.101 2246 2683 394 296 2640 2979 59.5±10.0 64.9±11.6 
0.908 0.930 2191 2389 325 359 2516 2748 64.2±11.6 59.5±13.0 
0.866 0.848 2226 2282 371 293 2597 2575 54.0±14.7 58.2±10.9 
0.751 0.777 1947 2299 424 345 2371 2644 66.9±16.6 60.2±12.0 
Averagec 0.977±0.095 1.000±0.101 2178±60 2441±77 387.8±18.6 355.2±34.5 2566±58 2796±91 61.4±14.2 61.7±12.3 
Pvalued 0.871  0.027*  0.43  0.064  0.377  
5.5 months male           
0.615 0.626 2210 2386 415 475 2625 2801 72.2±12.5 70.0±12.2 
0.587 0.582 2196 2438 400 374 2596 2722 61.2±11.0 59.3±13.5 
0.558 0.561 2153 2248 338 454 2491 2702 58.9±9.5 71.5±8.7 
0.528 0.526 1879 2166 347 400 2226 2566 64.4±10.5 59.5±8.9 
0.488 0.490 1849 2127 294 315 2143 2442 57.4±10.7 62.5±10.7 
Averagec 0.555±0.022 0.557±0.023 2057±80 2273±60 358.8±21.9 403.6±28.6 2416±98 2647±64 62.8±12.2 64.6±12.2 
Pvalued 0.957  0.063  0.249  0.084  0.65  
a

Fiber number was counted in one half of the cross section.

b

Fiber size represents the average diameter of 20 muscle fibers from a defined area of the cross section in the epaxial muscles.

c

All values are means ± s.e.m.

d

P values are results of a t-test; * indicates significant difference (P<0.05).

Discussion

In this study, we isolated the zebrafish myostatin genomic gene and analyzed its expression and function in zebrafish embryos, larvae and adult skeletal muscles. Our data demonstrated that the zebrafish myostatin mRNA was weakly expressed in early stage zebrafish embryos. Its expression increased significantly in swimming larvae, juvenile and adult skeletal muscles. Transient expression analysis demonstrated that the zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence contained regulatory elements for muscle expression. To develop a zebrafish model for the functional study of Myostatin in fish, transgenic zebrafish expressing the Myostatin prodomain were generated. The Myostatin prodomain was specifically expressed in skeletal muscle cells using a muscle-specific promoter. The transgenic fish developed normally and showed no defect in muscle development of early stage embryos. The transgenic fish exhibited an increased hyperplastic muscle growth, but no obvious increase in hypertrophic muscle growth compared to non-transgenic siblings. Similar to the results observed in the present report with zebrafish, a significant increase in muscle fiber number (i.e. hyperplasia) has been observed in rainbow trout muscle transfected with a morpholino oligonucleotide directed against myostatin (T. Bradley, personal communication). These data demonstrated that inhibiting Myostatin function in fish had a positive effect in stimulating muscle growth.

Characterization of fish myostatin genes

Although fish myostatin genes share high sequence identity with their mammalian counterparts, myostatin mRNA expression in fish is different compared with that in mammals. In mice, myostatin mRNA is strongly expressed in developing somite and skeletal muscles, and weakly expressed in cardiomyocytes, mammary glands and adipose tissue(McPherron et al., 1997; Ji et al., 1998; Sharma et al., 1999). In fish,several studies have demonstrated that, in addition to muscle expression, myostatin mRNA was expressed in eyes, spleen, gill filaments,ovaries, gut and brain and, to a lesser extent, in testes(Rodgers et al., 2001; Maccatrozzo et al., 2001a; Roberts and Goetz, 2001; Ostbye et al., 2001; Radaelli et al., 2003). Moreover, in contrast to strong expression in developing somites in mouse embryos, little or no myostatin mRNA expression could be detected in developing somites of fish embryos by whole-mount in situhybridization. Myostatin mRNA expression in early stage zebrafish embryos could only be detected by RT-PCR. This is consistent with a recent report in seabream by Maccatrozzo et al.(2001a), and in zebrafish by Vianello et al. (2003).

The different pattern of myostatin expression in fish and mice raised the question of whether the myostatin that we focused on in this study was the mammalian homologue, and whether or not additional myostatin genes are present in zebrafish, given that zebrafish have more duplicated genes compared to mammals(Wittbrodt et al., 1998; Robinson-Rechavi et al.,2001). Our BLAST search found two additional myostatin-related genes in the zebrafish genome sequence. They share approximately 60-70% identity with the zebrafish myostatin gene used in this study. These two myostatin related genes, however, did not show any expression in developing somites when examined by in situhybridization (data not shown) and their DNA sequences share less identity with the mouse myostatin gene compared with the myostatingene characterized in this study.

Recently, a closely related gene GDF-11/BMP-11 was identified in human,mouse and frog. GDF-11 is expressed in many tissues other than the skeletal muscles, such as brain and eye (Nakashima et al., 1999; McPherron et al., 1999; Gamer et al.,1999). GDF-11 and myostatin are thought to be derived from the same ancestral gene through gene duplication. The myostatin-like genes in zebrafish could represent the zebrafish GDF-11. These data suggest that the duplication event that generated myostatin and GDF-11 might occur before the divergence of the fish species. It is unknown at present whether the functions of Myostatin and GDF-11 are highly specific, as in mammals. Further studies, especially the characterization of fish GDF-11 expression and function, will provide more insight into the possible function of these two highly related genes in fish.

Myostatin functions in regulating fish muscle formation

Histological analysis revealed that the transgenic fish exhibited stratified hyperplasia (data not shown). Stratified hyperplasia generates new fibers along a distinct germinal layer. This type of hyperplasia is found in all fish species. In addition to stratified hyperplasia, another type of hyperplasia, mosaic hyperplasia, results in a large increase in total fiber number during juvenile growth, and is therefore very common in commercially important aquatic species that grow to a large size. Mosaic hyperplasia is greatly reduced or entirely lacking in species such as zebrafish, guppies and other fish that remain small (Van Raamsdonk et al., 1983; Weatherley and Gill, 1984, 1985; Weatherley et al., 1988). The lack of a dramatic effect on enhancing muscle growth in zebrafish could be due to the lack of mosaic hyperplasia in zebrafish. Nevertheless, inhibiting Myostatin function resulted in a small but significant increase in fiber numbers in the transgenic fish. This is consistent with the recent finding that growth hormone transgenic zebrafish only grow 20% faster than non-transgenic control (Morales et al.,2001). It will be interesting to determine if blocking Myostatin function in large aquatic species has a more dramatic effect in stimulating muscle growth.

The lack of a significant effect on hypertrophic growth in transgenic fish differs from previous findings in mice. In the myostatin knockout mice, the marked increase in muscle mass was attributed to both hypertrophy and hyperplasia (McPherron et al.,1997), while the transgenic mice expressing the Myostatin prodomain or the dominant negative form of Myostatin exhibited primarily hypertrophy (Zhu, 2000; Yang et al., 2001). The different response to Myostatin in fish and mice could be due to the different types of muscle growth in postnatal or post-larval stages. Postnatal muscle growth in mammals is largely contributed by hypertrophy. In contrast, in most fish species, muscle growth in post-embryonic life is attributed to continuous hyperplastic and hypertrophic growth (reviewed by Rowlerson and Veggetti, 2001). The less dramatic effect in fish could also be due to other reasons. Several studies have demonstrated that there is no correlation between changes in myostatin mRNA and Myostatin protein levels. Moreover, in zebrafish,it has been shown that most of the Myostatin proteins exist as precursor protein (Vianello et al.,2003). Therefore, overexpression of the Myostatin prodomain may not have a dramatic effect in inhibiting Myostatin activity in zebrafish.

The possibility that myostatin related genes may be also involved in the process should not be overlooked. Recently, Lee and McPherron(2001) demonstrated that overexpression of Follistatin, a TGF-β/BMPs inhibitor, in skeletal muscles of transgenic mice induced hyperplasia and hypertrophy. Interestingly,the muscle phenotype is more dramatic than that obtained from the myostatin knockout, suggesting that Follistatin may have an additional function than simply blocking Myostatin activity in skeletal muscles (Lee and McPherron,2001). Follistatin has been cloned in zebrafish and was found to be expressed in developing somite and skeletal muscles(Bauer et al., 1998). It remains to be determined if overexpressing Follistatin in fish skeletal muscles has a more dramatic effect in stimulating fish muscle growth.

Myostatin inhibits myoblast specification and differentiation by downregulating Pax3, Myf-5 and MyoD expression in myoblasts(Langley et al., 2002). In this study, we demonstrated that expression of MyoD, Myf-5 and myogenin was not significantly affected in transgenic zebrafish expressing the Myostatin prodomain. This result is not surprising considering that only a 10% increase in hyperplasia was found in transgenic fish.

Regulation of myostatin gene expression

Although myostatin mRNA is predominantly expressed in skeletal muscles, several studies have demonstrated that it is also expressed in other tissues. To understand its regulation of expression in muscle cells, we analyzed the activity of the zebrafish myostatin 5′ flanking sequence in zebrafish embryos. We found that the zebrafish myostatin5′ flanking sequence could drive GFP expression in muscle fibers of zebrafish embryos. We also noticed that GFP expression in myofibers driven by the myostatin flanking sequence was much stronger than myostatin mRNA expression observed by in situ hybridization. The discrepancy could be due to the fact that the fluorescent signal from GFP is more sensitive than staining from the whole-mount in situhybridization. In addition, for microinjection, a large number of copies(106) of the transgene were injected into zebrafish embryos. Compared with the myostatin mRNA expression from the two copies of the endogenous gene, GFP expression from the injected transgene is expected to be significantly stronger. Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that the myostatin 5′ flanking sequence used in this study lacks some of the inhibitory elements that restrict high levels of myostatinexpression in early stage embryos.

Myostatin expression is restricted to specific types of muscle fibers (Kambadur et al., 1997; Ji et al., 1998; Kocamis et al., 1999; Roberts and Goetz, 2001; Rescan et al., 2001). Because of the mosaic nature of the transient expression assay, it was difficult to determine if the expression of the myostatin-GFP transgene was restricted to certain types of myofibers in zebrafish embryos. Future studies are required to generate the myostatin-GFP transgenic model that could be used to study the expression and regulation of myostatinexpression in zebrafish and to clarify whether its expression in zebrafish is restricted to certain types of myofibers during development and growth.

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Bosheng Zhang and Tracy Robinson for assistance in screening the transgenic fish, Se-Jin Lee (Johns Hopkins University), Phil Hamilton and Bob Curtis (Cape Aquaculture Technologies) for helpful discussions during the execution of this project, and John Stubblefield for editorial assistance. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their very constructive comments on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by a NIH grant to SJD (RO1GM58537) and a research contract from Cape Aquaculture Technologies. This publication is contribution number 04-606 from the Center of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

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