Dynamic visualization of transcription and RNA subcellular localization in zebrafish

Philip D. Campbell, Jeffrey A. Chao, Robert H. Singer, Florence L. Marlow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Live imaging of transcription and RNA dynamics has been successful in cultured cells and tissues of vertebrates but is challenging to accomplish in vivo. The zebrafish offers important advantages to study these processes – optical transparency during embryogenesis, genetic tractability and rapid development. Therefore, to study transcription and RNA dynamics in an intact vertebrate organism, we have adapted the MS2 RNA-labeling system to zebrafish. By using this binary system to coexpress a fluorescent MS2 bacteriophage coat protein (MCP) and an RNA of interest tagged with multiple copies of the RNA hairpin MS2-binding site (MBS), live-cell imaging of RNA dynamics at single RNA molecule resolution has been achieved in other organisms. Here, using a Gatewaycompatible MS2 labeling system, we generated stable transgenic zebrafish lines expressing MCP, validated the MBS-MCP interaction and applied the system to investigate zygotic genome activation (ZGA) and RNA localization in primordial germ cells (PGCs) in zebrafish. Although cleavage stage cells are initially transcriptionally silent, we detect transcription of MS2-tagged transcripts driven by the βactin promoter at ∼3-3.5 h post-fertilization, consistent with the previously reported ZGA. Furthermore, we show that MS2-tagged nanos3 3′UTR transcripts localize to PGCs, where they are diffusely cytoplasmic and within larger cytoplasmic accumulations reminiscent of those displayed by endogenous nanos3. These tools provide a new avenue for live-cell imaging of RNA molecules in an intact vertebrate. Together with new techniques for targeted genome editing, this system will be a valuable tool to tag and study the dynamics of endogenous RNAs during zebrafish developmental processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1368-1374
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopment (Cambridge)
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • In vivo RNA labeling
  • MS2
  • Transcription
  • Transgenic zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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