The ability of animals to move depends on motoneurons sending appropriate signals to muscles. This ability is compromised by spinal cord injury and in diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Our long term goal is to use individually identified motoneurons in embryonic zebrafish as a model to understand normal motoneuron development;this knowledge is critical for designing therapies for spinal cord injuries and diseases such as ALS. We hypothesize that transcription factor networks control specific aspects of motoneuron development such as axon morphology, neurotransmitter activity, expression of ion channels and receptors, and survival. We propose a series of experiments to address this hypothesis. Motoneurons do not form in the absence of the Islet1 transcription factor, suggesting that it is a motoneuron master regulator . In zebrafish lacking Islet1, motoneurons develop an interneuron-like morphology, but maintain expression of several motoneuron genes, including transcription factors. These results suggest that Islet1 regulates some but not all aspects of motoneuron differentiation, and thus is not a motoneuron master regulator. We propose that motoneuron development is regulated by transcription factor modules that promote specific motoneuron characteristics and suppress specific interneuron characteristics. To deduce the logic by which transcriptional modules regulate motoneuron development, we propose to knock down expression of specific transcription factors using morpholino oligonucleotides and to examine motoneuron and interneuron markers, including axons, neurotransmitters, receptors, and ion channels. About half of the motoneurons initially formed during vertebrate development die from lack of availability or access to trophic support. We propose that the Notch and Netrin signaling pathways interact during motoneuron development, resulting in limited access of specific zebrafish motoneurons to trophic support and death of these cells. We propose to test this hypothesis by altering Netrin and Notch function. Many genes involved in motoneuron development remain unknown. We propose a microarray screen to discover these genes based on their differential expression. In this screen, we will compare spinal cords of embryos with supernumerary motoneurons to those of embryos lacking motoneurons. Genes isolated in this screen will feed back into the other studies in this proposal. Our ability to study individual zebrafish spinal neurons provides an unprecedented opportunity to learn the mechanisms that regulate motoneuron differentiation and survival. Our proposed studies will provide insights that should facilitate new therapies for treatment of motoneuron diseases and injury. In humans, spinal cord injury and diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) compromise the ability of motoneurons to activate muscle, leading to devastating consequences such as paralysis and death. Our proposed studies will help reveal mechanisms that regulate motoneuron differentiation and survival, thus providing insights that should facilitate new therapies for treatment of motoneuron diseases and injury.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
Research Project (R01)
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Neurodifferentiation, Plasticity, and Regeneration Study Section (NDPR)
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Riddle, Robert D
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University of Oregon
Other Basic Sciences
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United States
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Tallafuss, Alexandra; Gibson, Dan; Morcos, Paul et al. (2012) Turning gene function ON and OFF using sense and antisense photo-morpholinos in zebrafish. Development 139:1691-9
Honjo, Yasuko; Payne, Laurel; Eisen, Judith S (2011) Somatosensory mechanisms in zebrafish lacking dorsal root ganglia. J Anat 218:271-6
Krull, Catherine E; Eisen, Judith S (2010) Mechanisms of growth cone repulsion. F1000 Biol Rep 2:6
Eisen, Judith S; Smith, James C (2008) Controlling morpholino experiments: don't stop making antisense. Development 135:1735-43
Honjo, Yasuko; Kniss, Jonathan; Eisen, Judith S (2008) Neuregulin-mediated ErbB3 signaling is required for formation of zebrafish dorsal root ganglion neurons. Development 135:2615-25
Hutchinson, Sarah A; Cheesman, Sarah E; Hale, Laura A et al. (2007) Nkx6 proteins specify one zebrafish primary motoneuron subtype by regulating late islet1 expression. Development 134:1671-7
Hutchinson, Sarah A; Eisen, Judith S (2006) Islet1 and Islet2 have equivalent abilities to promote motoneuron formation and to specify motoneuron subtype identity. Development 133:2137-47
Pineda, Ricardo H; Svoboda, Kurt R; Wright, Melissa A et al. (2006) Knockdown of Nav1.6a Na+ channels affects zebrafish motoneuron development. Development 133:3827-36
Hale, Laura A; Tallafuss, Alexandra; Yan, Yi-Lin et al. (2006) Characterization of the retinoic acid receptor genes raraa, rarab and rarg during zebrafish development. Gene Expr Patterns 6:546-55
Tallafuss, Alexandra; Hale, Laura A; Yan, Yi-Lin et al. (2006) Characterization of retinoid-X receptor genes rxra, rxrba, rxrbb and rxrg during zebrafish development. Gene Expr Patterns 6:556-65

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