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Nutr Metab (Lond). 2008 Aug 27;5:23. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-5-23.

A high throughput live transparent animal bioassay to identify non-toxic small molecules or genes that regulate vertebrate fat metabolism for obesity drug development.

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  • 1Department of Genome Science, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, 4523, USA.



The alarming rise in the obesity epidemic and growing concern for the pathologic consequences of the metabolic syndrome warrant great need for development of obesity-related pharmacotherapeutics. The search for such therapeutics is severely limited by the slow throughput of animal models of obesity. Amenable to placement into a 96 well plate, zebrafish larvae have emerged as one of the highest throughput vertebrate model organisms for performing small molecule screens. A method for visually identifying non-toxic molecular effectors of fat metabolism using a live transparent vertebrate was developed. Given that increased levels of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) via deletion of CD38 have been shown to prevent high fat diet induced obesity in mice in a SIRT-1 dependent fashion we explored the possibility of directly applying NAD to zebrafish.


Zebrafish larvae were incubated with daily refreshing of nile red containing media starting from a developmental stage of equivalent fat content among siblings (3 days post-fertilization, dpf) and continuing with daily refreshing until 7 dpf.


PPAR activators, beta-adrenergic agonists, SIRT-1 activators, and nicotinic acid treatment all caused predicted changes in fat, cholesterol, and gene expression consistent with a high degree of evolutionary conservation of fat metabolism signal transduction extending from man to zebrafish larvae. All changes in fat content were visually quantifiable in a relative fashion using live zebrafish larvae nile red fluorescence microscopy. Resveratrol treatment caused the greatest and most consistent loss of fat content. The resveratrol tetramer Vaticanol B caused loss of fat equivalent in potency to resveratrol alone. Significantly, the direct administration of NAD decreased fat content in zebrafish. Results from knockdown of a zebrafish G-PCR ortholog previously determined to decrease fat content in C. elegans support that future GPR142 antagonists may be effective non-toxic anti-obesity therapeutics.


Owing to the apparently high level of evolutionary conservation of signal transduction pathways regulating lipid metabolism, the zebrafish can be useful for identifying non-toxic small molecules or pharmacological target gene products for developing molecular therapeutics for treating clinical obesity. Our results support the promising potential in applying NAD or resveratrol where the underlying target protein likely involves Sirtuin family member proteins. Furthermore data supports future studies focused on determining whether there is a high concentration window for resveratrol that is effective and non-toxic in high fat obesity murine models.

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