The elongation rate of RNA polymerase II in zebrafish and its significance in the somite segmentation clock

Anja Hanisch, Maxine V. Holder, Suma Choorapoikayil, Martin Gajewski, Ertuǧrul M. Özbudak, Julian Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


A gene expression oscillator called the segmentation clock controls somite segmentation in the vertebrate embryo. In zebrafish, the oscillatory transcriptional repressor genes her1 and her7 are crucial for genesis of the oscillations, which are thought to arise from negative autoregulation of these genes. The period of oscillation is predicted to depend on delays in the negative-feedback loop, including, most importantly, the transcriptional delay - the time taken to make each molecule of her1 or her7 mRNA. her1 and her7 operate in parallel. Loss of both gene functions, or mutation of her1 combined with knockdown of Hes6, which we show to be a binding partner of Her7, disrupts segmentation drastically. However, mutants in which only her1 or her7 is functional show only mild segmentation defects and their oscillations have almost identical periods. This is unexpected because the her1 and her7 genes differ greatly in length. We use transgenic zebrafish to measure the RNA polymerase II elongation rate, for the first time, in the intact embryo. This rate is unexpectedly rapid, at 4.8 kb/minute at 28.5°C, implying that, for both genes, the time taken for transcript elongation is insignificant compared with other sources of delay, explaining why the mutants have similar clock periods. Our computational model shows how loss of her1 or her7 can allow oscillations to continue with unchanged period but with reduced amplitude and impaired synchrony, as manifested in the in situ hybridisation patterns of the single mutants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)444-453
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopment (Cambridge)
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2013


  • RNA polymerase II
  • Segmentation clock
  • Somite
  • Zebrafish
  • her1
  • her7

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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