Characterising the novel activation of wt1b in the notochord damage response of zebrafish larvae
Lopez Baez, Juan Carlos
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The notochord is the defining structure of all chordates. A semi-‐flexible elongated tube of cells, it forms along the central axis of the embryo and provides axial support during development. It also acts as a signalling centre during early embryogenesis, controlling the patterning of a number of tissues and establishing the early body axis of the embryo. In vertebrates, the function of the notochord expands beyond early development. It creates morphogenic gradients for the patterned formation of the vertebral bodies and, in adults, the remnants of the notochord form the nucleus pulposus, a gel-‐like structure with an integral role in the distribution of vertebral pressure in the intervertebral disc. Little is known about how the notochord copes with damage during embryogenesis, but degeneration of the nucleus pulposus can lead to debilitating spinal disorders. In this thesis, I use a zebrafish model system to present new data that describes the cellular behaviours associated with how the notochord copes with external damage and how this damage can influence the future development of the vertebrae. I have uncovered a novel damage response in the notochord of zebrafish larvae and characterised the morphogenetic changes involved in the process using transgenic fluorescent lines. I have explored the damage in the context of the Wilms’ Tumour 1 (Wt1) gene, a vertebrate-‐conserved transcription factor, which has recently been associated with several regenerative responses, and discovered that one of its zebrafish orthologues, wt1b, becomes upregulated in the notochord damage response. I have used fluorescent confocal imaging and immunohistochemistry to present new evidence that shows that upon injury, the outer notochord sheath cells upregulate the expression of wt1b. Additionally, I have used time-‐lapse microscopy to show that damage to the notochord induces novel morphological changes in the injured organ, which include the loss of cellularity of the inner vacuolated cells and the movement of the wt1b-‐positive outer sheath cells into the injured lumen. Long-‐term imaging experiments have also demonstrated the capacity of the notochord to heal the damage over time, which ultimately leads to the formation of an extra, smaller vertebra in the wounded area. Skeletal staining of these fish has revealed a previously unknown putative cartilage switch at the site of damage, which leads to the formation of the new vertebral body. This finding has been supported by the microarray analysis of the injured area, which shows the unexpected de-‐novo expression of cartilage markers at the site of damage The work in this thesis identifies for the first time an endogenous repair mechanism in the notochord of zebrafish larvae and describes the cellular, genetic and molecular processes cotrolling this novel wt1b-‐associated damage response.