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Proliferation, dispersal and patterned aggregation of iridophores in the skin prefigure striped colouration of zebrafish

Nature Cell Biology volume 16, pages 604611 (2014) | Download Citation


Colour patterns are a striking feature of animals; they evolve rapidly and play an important role in natural as well as sexual selection. It has been proposed that colour pattern formation in adult vertebrates depends on Turing-type interactions between pigment cells1; however, little is known about the actual developmental mechanisms underlying the complex and prolonged ontogeny of this important adult feature. Zebrafish (Danio rerio) owe their name to a repetitive pattern of dark stripes and light interstripes parallel to the anteroposterior body axis that develop during juvenile stages2,3. By inducible Cre/loxP-mediated recombination in neural-crest-derived progenitors, we created labelled clones of skin pigment cells that were imaged over several weeks in juvenile and adult fish. Metamorphic iridophores arise from postembryonic stem cells located at the dorsal root ganglia of the peripheral nervous system. They emerge in the skin at the horizontal myoseptum to form the first interstripe and proliferate while spreading bidirectionally along the dorsoventral axis. Patterned aggregation of iridophores during their dispersal generates a series of interstripes that define the stripe regions. Melanophore progenitors appear in situ in the presumptive stripe region where they melanize and expand in size to form compact stripes. Thus, although depending on mutual interactions between different pigment cells, stripes and interstripes are formed by a completely different cellular route.

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We thank A. Mongera and M. Levesque for providing transgenic lines before publication; C. Dooley for initial help; and C.N-V. laboratory members, P. Müller, D. Gilmour and F. Chan for discussions and comments. We thank C. Liebig and the light microscopy facility, B. Walderich and the fish facility for great support. This work was financially supported by the Max-Planck Society for the Advancement of Science. A.P.S. received a long-term postdoctoral fellowship (EMBO-LTF) from the European Molecular Biology Organization.

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  1. Max-Planck-Institut für Entwicklungsbiologie, 72076 Tübingen, Germany

    • Ajeet Pratap Singh
    • , Ursula Schach
    •  & Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard


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A.P.S. and C.N-V. conceived and designed experiments; A.P.S. and U.S. performed experiments; A.P.S. and C.N-V. analysed data and wrote the paper.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Ajeet Pratap Singh or Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard.

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  1. 1.

    Iridophore behaviour in the skin during metamorphosis.

    Time-lapse images from the Figure 2c-x are compiled in this video after manual alignment of the stacks in Adobe Photoshop. The stacks encompass metamoprphic stages from 28 dpf to 45 dpf.

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