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PLoS One. 2014 Feb 6;9(2):e88086. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0088086. eCollection 2014.

The heterochronic genes lin-28a and lin-28b play an essential and evolutionarily conserved role in early zebrafish development.

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  • 1The Center for Education in Laboratory Animal Research, Chubu University, Kasugai, Aichi, Japan ; Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Life and Health Sciences, Chubu University, Kasugai, Aichi, Japan.
  • 2Department of Biomedical Sciences, College of Life and Health Sciences, Chubu University, Kasugai, Aichi, Japan.


The Caenorhabditis elegans heterochronic gene pathway, which consists of a set of regulatory genes, plays an important regulatory role in the timing of stage-specific cell lineage development in nematodes. Research into the heterochronic gene pathway gave rise to landmark microRNA (miRNA) studies and showed that these genes are important in stem cell and cancer biology; however, their functions in vertebrate development are largely unknown. To elucidate the function of the heterochronic gene pathway during vertebrate development, we cloned the zebrafish homologs of the C. elegans let-7 miRNA-binding protein, Lin-28, and analyzed their function in zebrafish development. The zebrafish genome contains two Lin28-related genes, lin-28a and lin-28b. Similar to mammalian Lin28 proteins, both zebrafish Lin-28a and Lin-28b have a conserved cold-shock domain and a pair of CCHC zinc finger domains, and are ubiquitously expressed during early embryonic development. In a reciprocal fashion, the expression of downstream heterochronic genes, let-7 and lin-4/miR-125 miRNA, occurred subsequent to lin-28 expression. The knockdown of Lin-28a or Lin-28b function by morpholino microinjection into embryos resulted in severe cell proliferation defects during early morphogenesis. We found that the expression of let-7 miRNA was upregulated and its downstream target gene, lin-41, was downregulated in these embryos. Interestingly, the expression of miR-430, a key regulator of maternal mRNA decay, was downregulated in lin-28a and lin-28b morphant embryos, suggesting a role for Lin-28 in the maternal-to-zygotic transition in zebrafish. Taken together, our results suggest an evolutionarily conserved and pivotal role of the heterochronic gene pathway in early vertebrate embryogenesis.

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