Diagnosis and treatment of many genetic diseases is hindered by variation in disease symptoms. The reasons for this variation are often unknown because systematic studies have not been undertaken. The goal of this Program Project is to elucidate mechanisms underlying normal phenotypic resilience and the instability that occurs when such mechanisms are lost in the disease state. We hypothesize that variation can result from failure of mechanisms that normally buffer against noise in developmental processes, for example stochastic variation in gene activities and cellular read-outs, and thus assure phenotypic stability in healthy children. We test this hypothesis in three Projects (Projects), using the zebrafish, a premiere model organism pioneered by this group at the University of Oregon. The projects take advantage of attributes of the zebrafish for developmental genetics analyses, including exquisite time-lapse microscopy of transgenically labeled fish to follow developmental events and perturbations in real time, assays of macromolecular complex formation, genome-wide analyses of cell signaling events, and assessment of environmental interactions that modulate host gene expression. These studies will elucidate the nature of events leading to variability in disease symptoms. Project1 focuses on variation In Fraser syndrome, a rare inherited disorder characterized by craniofacial and pharyngeal epithelial disruptions that show a remarkable degree of variation, both among affected individuals and on the left and right sides of the same individual. Proposed studies will explore how failure of epithelial-mesenchymal interactions results in differences in craniofacial skeletal development and will reveal genes responsible for the stability and resilience seen under normal conditions. Project2 tests a novel hypothesis for phenotypic variation with Usher syndrome, the most prevalent cause of hereditary deaf-blindness, hypothesizing that it results from disruption of complexes of Usher proteins that cause cellular stress that leads to stochastic cell death. Project3 investigates phenotypic variation associated with Hirschsprung disease, the leading cause of intestinal aganglionosis, exploring the hypothesis that the enteric nervous system regulates composition of intestinal bacterial communities and that altered communities contribute to disease progression by promoting inflammation and amplifying intestinal motility defects. Together with support of four Core Units, this Program Project will provide novel insights into three specific diseases and develop a new understanding of the mechanisms underlying disease variability that will promote better disease diagnosis and treatment.

Public Health Relevance

Many human diseases show variable symptoms, hindering diagnosis and treatment. This Program Project examines the reasons for symptom variability in models of three diseases - Fraser syndrome, Usher syndrome, and Hirschsprung disease - with the goal of improving diagnosis and treatment.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Research Program Projects (P01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1-DSR-Y (50))
Program Officer
Henken, Deborah B
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Oregon
Other Basic Sciences
Organized Research Units
United States
Zip Code
Edmunds, Richard C; Su, Baofeng; Balhoff, James P et al. (2016) Phenoscape: Identifying Candidate Genes for Evolutionary Phenotypes. Mol Biol Evol 33:13-24
Burns, Adam R; Stephens, W Zac; Stagaman, Keaton et al. (2016) Contribution of neutral processes to the assembly of gut microbial communities in the zebrafish over host development. ISME J 10:655-64
Mason, Timothy; Snell, Kathy; Mittge, Erika et al. (2016) Strategies to Mitigate a Mycobacterium marinum Outbreak in a Zebrafish Research Facility. Zebrafish :
Wiles, Travis J; Jemielita, Matthew; Baker, Ryan P et al. (2016) Host Gut Motility Promotes Competitive Exclusion within a Model Intestinal Microbiota. PLoS Biol 14:e1002517
Hill, Jennifer Hampton; Franzosa, Eric A; Huttenhower, Curtis et al. (2016) A conserved bacterial protein induces pancreatic beta cell expansion during zebrafish development. Elife 5:
Zac Stephens, W; Burns, Adam R; Stagaman, Keaton et al. (2016) The composition of the zebrafish intestinal microbial community varies across development. ISME J 10:644-54
Talbot, Jared Coffin; Nichols, James T; Yan, Yi-Lin et al. (2016) Pharyngeal morphogenesis requires fras1-itga8-dependent epithelial-mesenchymal interaction. Dev Biol 416:136-48
Taylor, Charlotte R; Montagne, William A; Eisen, Judith S et al. (2016) Molecular fingerprinting delineates progenitor populations in the developing zebrafish enteric nervous system. Dev Dyn 245:1081-1096
Desvignes, Thomas; Detrich 3rd, H William; Postlethwait, John H (2016) Genomic conservation of erythropoietic microRNAs (erythromiRs) in white-blooded Antarctic icefish. Mar Genomics 30:27-34
Postlethwait, John H; Yan, Yi-Lin; Desvignes, Thomas et al. (2016) Embryogenesis and early skeletogenesis in the antarctic bullhead notothen, Notothenia coriiceps. Dev Dyn 245:1066-1080

Showing the most recent 10 out of 295 publications