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Biotechniques. 2008 Sep;45(3):331-4. doi: 10.2144/000112909.

Real-time imaging of mitochondria in transgenic zebrafish expressing mitochondrially targeted GFP.

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Laboratory of Molecular Genetics, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Mitochondria maintain a web-shaped network in cells through a balance between fusion and fission. Under certain physiological and pathological conditions, this balance is breached, and as a result, change in mitochondrial morphology ensues. Real-time monitoring of such change is of significant importance for studying mitochondrial physiology and pathology, such as apoptosis, aging, and neurodegeneration. Numerous studies have been conducted in animal cell culture systems concerning mitochondrial morphology change. However, very little is known to date about the real-time changes in mitochondrial morphology at the organism level due to difficulties in observation and administration of mitochondria-disrupting drugs. Here we report the generation of transgenic zebrafish (Danio rerio) expressing mitochondrially targeted green fluorescent protein (GFP). The transparency of transgenic zebrafish embryos make it possible to monitor mitochondrial morphology in real time and in vivo. Since zebrafish inhabit fresh water, incubating zebrafish in drug-dissolved water sufficed to administer drugs to the zebrafish. We observed real-time and in vivo fragmentation of mitochondria in the transgenic embryos upon incubation in water with the following apoptosis-inducing drugs: valinomycin, carbonyl cyanide 4-(trifluoromethoxy) phenylhydrazone (FCCP), and staurosporine. Thus, the transgenic zebrafish we generated could provide a platform for research on apoptosis and mitochondrial physiology and a screen for apoptosis-modulating drugs. It could also facilitate study of the pathogenesis of apoptosis-related diseases.

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