With the societal trend toward delaying pregnancy until advanced maternal ages, the reliance on assisted reproductive techniques is growing rapidly. A fundamental question for the field of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) has been that of distinguishing healthy eggs and subsequent embryos from unhealthy ones. The inability to differentiate healthy embryos from unhealthy ones has resulted in the propensity for Fertility Clinics to transfer multiple embryos in the hopes that one will implant and result in a successful pregnancy. This practice has resulted in increased prevalence of multiple births that are inherently riskier and often result in premature delivery. In order to improve our understanding of embryos suitable for implantation, it is imperative that we understand the molecular mechanisms that make a healthy egg develop into a healthy embryo. Formation and maturation of a developmentally competent egg requires that RNAs and proteins within the egg cytoplasm be poised to direct early zygotic development after fertilization. This is especially crucial when considering that the first cell divisions and cell fate specifications occur before the zygotic genome is active; thus, maternally deposited gene products are the sole drivers of early embryonic development. We use the zebrafish to study this process because zebrafish eggs are fertilized externally, and the embryos develop outside of the body and are optically transparent. This allows for clear visualization of early phenotypes that often result in embryonic lethality. Additionally, zebrafish have excellent genetic tools and are exceptionally fertile, layig hundreds of eggs in a week, and are thereby a very powerful model for the genetic basis of egg and embryonic defects. In zebrafish and frogs, maternally deposited gene products include asymmetrically distributed RNAs and proteins responsible for establishing the germ line and the first embryonic axis. In mammals, it has not yet been determined if asymmetries in the egg are required for patterning of the embryonic axes. However, the oocytes of all animals (including humans) contain an asymmetrical structure, the Balbiani body (Bb), which is a transient subcellular aggregation of organelles and gene products. In zebrafish, the formation of the Bb is essential to deliver patterning molecules to one side of the egg. To date, only one gene has been demonstrated as necessary for Bb formation, the zebrafish bucky ball gene. We hypothesize that Bucky ball mediates assembly of the Balbiani body by interacting with RNA- binding proteins that, in turn, recruit patterning RNAs to this structure. To address this hypothesis, we will use classical genetics gain-of-function and loss-of-function approaches to assess the role of a conserved RNA- binding protein (RNAbp) in oocyte and embryonic patterning. Further, we will use biochemistry techniques to determine the nature of the interaction between Bucky ball and this RNAbp, and follow up this analysis with in vivo characterization on proteins lacking the interaction domains. Through imaging of transgenic and mutant zebrafish oocytes and embryos, this project will advance our understanding of oocyte patterning in vertebrates.

Public Health Relevance

Revealing the molecular components that characterize a 'good' egg, one that is most likely to be fertilized and develop into a healthy embryo, is critical to our understanding of human fertility and birth defects. The proposed work employs genetic approaches available in the zebrafish to identify the molecular mechanisms that establish the first axis of the vertebrate egg and embryo. An improved understanding of this process may permit development of improved diagnostic tools for assessing egg and embryo quality in assisted reproductive therapies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Individual Predoctoral NRSA for M.D./Ph.D. Fellowships (ADAMHA) (F30)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel ()
Program Officer
Ravindranath, Neelakanta
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Inc
United States
Zip Code
Kaufman, Odelya H; Lee, KathyAnn; Martin, Manon et al. (2018) rbpms2 functions in Balbiani body architecture and ovary fate. PLoS Genet 14:e1007489
Kaufman, O H; Marlow, F L (2016) Methods to study maternal regulation of germ cell specification in zebrafish. Methods Cell Biol 134:1-32