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Developmental Biology

Generation of Parabiotic Zebrafish Embryos by Surgical Fusion of Developing Blastulae

Published: June 11th, 2016



1Division of Hematology/Oncology, Boston Children’s Hospital, 2Harvard Medical School, 3Division of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, 4Harvard Stem Cell Institute, 5Broad Institute of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 6Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 7Division of Hematologic Malignancies, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

This protocol provides step-by-step instruction on how to generate parabiotic zebrafish embryos of different genetic backgrounds. When combined with the unparalleled imaging capabilities of the zebrafish embryo, this method provides a uniquely powerful means to investigate cell-autonomous versus non-cell-autonomous functions for candidate genes of interest.

Surgical parabiosis of two animals of different genetic backgrounds creates a unique scenario to study cell-intrinsic versus cell-extrinsic roles for candidate genes of interest, migratory behaviors of cells, and secreted signals in distinct genetic settings. Because parabiotic animals share a common circulation, any blood or blood-borne factor from one animal will be exchanged with its partner and vice versa. Thus, cells and molecular factors derived from one genetic background can be studied in the context of a second genetic background. Parabiosis of adult mice has been  used extensively to research aging, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and brain development. More recently, parabiosis of zebrafish embryos has been used to study the developmental biology of hematopoiesis. In contrast to mice, the transparent nature of zebrafish embryos permits the direct visualization of cells in the parabiotic context, making it a uniquely powerful method for investigating fundamental cellular and molecular mechanisms. The utility of this technique, however, is limited by a steep learning curve for generating the parabiotic zebrafish embryos. This protocol provides a step-by-step method on how to surgically fuse the blastulae of two zebrafish embryos of different genetic backgrounds to investigate the role of candidate genes of interest. In addition, the parabiotic zebrafish embryos are tolerant to heat shock, making temporal control of gene expression possible. This method does not require a sophisticated set-up and has broad applications for studying cell migration, fate specification, and differentiation in vivo during embryonic development.

Creation of genetic mosaics (chimeras) between wild-type and genetically modified animals is a well-established and classical strategy for investigating cell-intrinsic versus cell-extrinsic functions of candidate genes1-6. Blastula transplantation in zebrafish has been widely utilized to generate chimeric embryos for studies of cell-autonomy7-9. Depending on the tissue of interest, however, it can be challenging to predictably target donor cells to the desired tissue (e.g., blood) 1-3, 7-9. Mouse geneticists have long utilized parabiotic surgical methods to generate conjoined organisms with a shared circulation 10-14....

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This protocol was approved by Boston Children's Hospital Animal Care and Use Committee. This protocol is modified from a previously published method 15.

1. Preparation of Reagents (Days or Weeks in Advance)

  1. Prepare 1.5% agarose-coated dishes. Add 1.5 g agarose to 100 ml Zebrafish E3 medium in an Erlenmeyer flask. Heat, dissolve the agarose, and then pour approximately 5 ml into 100 mm diameter x 20 mm deep petri dishes.
    Note: These are used for dechor.......

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Consistent with previously published studies15, successful parabiotic fusion of zebrafish embryos depends on the staging and orientation of the two embryos and the concentration of methylcellulose. With just a few simple, inexpensive tools, surgically fused developing blastulae were generated that grew into parabiotic embryos with shared circulation. These tools included a modified Pasteur pipette, a 10 ml pipette pump, and wood handled teasing needles which were used eith.......

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Parabiotic fusion has been a powerful tool to investigate cellular functions of candidate genes in adult murine models and chick embryos10-14. More recently, a blastula fusion method has been described for generating conjoined zebrafish embryos15. In the present protocol, video-based tutorials are used to demonstrate and better describe the methodology for creating parabiotic zebrafish embryos of different genetic backgrounds in order to study temporal, cell-intrinsic, and cell-extrinsic roles of ca.......

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We thank Julie R. Perlin for helpful comments on the manuscript. D.I.S. is supported by grants from the American Society of Hematology, the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, and the NIH (K01DK085217 and R03DK100672). E.J.H. is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow of the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation. B.L. is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Medical Research Fellow. B.W.B. is supported by an Irvington Fellowship from the Cancer Research Institute and a Young Investigator Award from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO. L.I.Z. is supported by grants from the NIH (R01CA103846, P01HL032262, and R01HL04880), Taub Foundation for MDS Research, Harvard Stem Cell Institute, and....

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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
Methyl cellulose Sigma M0387
Individual components for E3/HCR: For 1L: 14,61g NaCl, 0,63g KCl, 2,43g CaCl2-2H2O, 1,99g MgSO4
NaCl (Sodium chloride) Sigma-Aldrich S9888
KCl (Potassium chloride) Sigma-Aldrich P9541
CaCl2 (Calcium chloride dihydrate) Sigma-Aldrich 223506
MgSO4 (Magnessium sulfate heptahydrate) Sigma-Aldrich 230391
Hepes (1M ) buffer solution ThermoFisher 15630-080
Name Company Catalog Number
Pen/Strep gibco by Life technologies 15140-120
Ampicilin sodium salt Sigma Life Science A0166
Kanamycin sulfate from Streptomyces kanamyceticus Sigma Life Science K1377
Name of Reagent/ Equipment Company Catalog Number
50 mg/ml Pronase from Streptomyces griseus Roche 11459643001
capillary glass used for needles (Capillary Glass & Filaments) Sutter Instrument ITEM#: BF 100-50-10
Teasing needles with wooden handles Fisher Scientific S07894
Glass Pasteur pipettes Fisherbrand 13-678-20A
10 mL pipette pump (green) (Pipette Pump Pipettor) Novatech International F37898-0000
100 mm diameter/ 20 mm deep plastic petri dishes (PETRI DISH, 100/20 MM, PS, CLEAR, WITH VENTS,
Greiner Bio-one 664102
Dextran, Cascade Blue, 10,000 MW, Anionic, Lysine Fixable ThermoFisher D-1976
PTU. working stock is 0.003% (50X is 0.15%). for 500ml, 0.75 g N-Phenylthiourea Sigma-Aldrich P7629
Tricaine (powder) (Tricaine Methanesulfonato, Tricaine-S) Western Chemical Inc MS 222
LMP agarose (Ultrapure LMP agarose) Invitrogen 16520100
plastic transfer pipette (just the wide ended one I think) Fisherbrand 137115AM
Glass-bottom 6-well plates used for imaging MatTek P06G1.5-20-F
plastic western gel loading tip fixed on the end of a wood-handled dissecting needle (GELoader tips) Eppendorf 22351656
glass cover slips, slides and vacuum grease if mounting for an upright microscope:
Vaccum grease ( Dow Corning® high-vacuum silicone grease
colorless, weight 5.3 oz (tube) )
Dow Corning Z273554
Glass cover slips Corning Life Sciences 2960-244

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