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BMC Biotechnol. 2010 Mar 22;10:24. doi: 10.1186/1472-6750-10-24.

Phenotypic analysis of images of zebrafish treated with Alzheimer's gamma-secretase inhibitors.

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Center for Neurologic Diseases, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA.



Several gamma-secretase inhibitors (GSI) are in clinical trials for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease (AD). This enzyme mediates the proteolytic cleavage of amyloid precursor protein (APP) to generate amyloid beta protein, Abeta, the pathogenic protein in AD. The gamma-secretase also cleaves Notch to generate Notch Intracellular domain (NICD), the signaling molecule that is implicated in tumorigenesis.


We have developed a method to examine live zebrafish that were each treated with gamma-secretase inhibitors (GSI), DAPT {N- [N-(3,5-Difluorophenacetyl-L-alanyl)]-S-phenylglycine t-Butyl Ester}, Gleevec, or fragments of Gleevec. These compounds were first tested in a cell-based assay and the effective concentrations of these compounds that blocked Abeta generation were quantitated. The mortality of zebrafish, as a result of exposure to different doses of compound, was assessed, and any apoptotic processes were examined by TUNEL staining. We then used conventional and automatic microscopes to acquire images of zebrafish and applied algorithms to automate image composition and processing. Zebrafish were treated in 96- or 384-well plates, and the phenotypes were analyzed at 2, 3 and 5 days post fertilization (dpf). We identified that AD95, a fragment of Gleevec, effectively blocks Abeta production and causes specific phenotypes that were different from those treated with DAPT. Finally, we validated the specificity of two Notch phenotypes (pigmentation and the curvature of tail/trunk) induced by DAPT in a dose-dependent manner. These phenotypes were examined in embryos treated with GSIs or AD95 at increasing concentrations. The expression levels of Notch target gene her6 were also measured by in situ hybridization and the co-relationship between the levels of Notch inhibition by DAPT and AD95 and the severity of phenotypes were determined.


The results reported here of the effects on zebrafish suggest that this newly developed method may be used to screen novel GSIs and other leads for a variety of therapeutic indications.

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