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PLoS One. 2010 Dec 13;5(12):e14296. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014296.

Zebrafish numb and numblike are involved in primitive erythrocyte differentiation.

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  • 1Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italy.



Notch signaling is an evolutionarily conserved regulatory circuitry implicated in cell fate determination in various developmental processes including hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal and differentiation of blood lineages. Known endogenous inhibitors of Notch activity are Numb-Nb and Numblike-Nbl, which play partially redundant functions in specifying and maintaining neuronal differentiation. Nb and Nbl are expressed in most tissues including embryonic and adult hematopoietic tissues in mice and humans, suggesting possible roles for these proteins in hematopoiesis.


We employed zebrafish to investigate the possible functional role of Numb and Numblike during hematopoiesis, as this system allows a detailed analysis even in embryos with severe defects that would be lethal in other organisms. Here we describe that nb/nbl knockdown results in severe reduction or absence of embryonic erythrocytes in zebrafish. Interestingly, nb/nbl knocked-down embryos present severe downregulation of the erythroid transcription factor gata1. This results in erythroblasts which fail to mature and undergo apoptosis. Our results indicate that Notch activity is increased in embryos injected with nb/nbl morpholino, and we show that inhibition of Notch activation can partially rescue the hematopoietic phenotype.


Our results provide the first in vivo evidence of an involvement of Numb and Numblike in zebrafish erythroid differentiation during primitive hematopoiesis. Furthermore, we found that, at least in part, the nb/nbl morphant phenotype is due to enhanced Notch activation within hematopoietic districts, which in turn results in primitive erythroid differentiation defects.

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