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PLoS One. 2011;6(7):e21908. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021908. Epub 2011 Jul 1.

Knock-down of cathepsin D affects the retinal pigment epithelium, impairs swim-bladder ontogenesis and causes premature death in zebrafish.

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Laboratorio di Patologia Molecolare del Dipartimento di Scienze Mediche and Centro di Biotecnologie per la Ricerca Medica Applicata dell'Università del Piemonte Orientale, Novara, Italy.


The lysosomal aspartic protease Cathepsin D (CD) is ubiquitously expressed in eukaryotic organisms. CD activity is essential to accomplish the acid-dependent extensive or partial proteolysis of protein substrates within endosomal and lysosomal compartments therein delivered via endocytosis, phagocytosis or autophagocytosis. CD may also act at physiological pH on small-size substrates in the cytosol and in the extracellular milieu. Mouse and fruit fly CD knock-out models have highlighted the multi-pathophysiological roles of CD in tissue homeostasis and organ development. Here we report the first phenotypic description of the lack of CD expression during zebrafish (Danio rerio) development obtained by morpholino-mediated knock-down of CD mRNA. Since the un-fertilized eggs were shown to be supplied with maternal CD mRNA, only a morpholino targeting a sequence containing the starting ATG codon was effective. The main phenotypic alterations produced by CD knock-down in zebrafish were: 1. abnormal development of the eye and of retinal pigment epithelium; 2. absence of the swim-bladder; 3. skin hyper-pigmentation; 4. reduced growth and premature death. Rescue experiments confirmed the involvement of CD in the developmental processes leading to these phenotypic alterations. Our findings add to the list of CD functions in organ development and patho-physiology in vertebrates.

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