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Methods Mol Biol. 2014;1211:53-67. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1459-3_5.

In situ hybridization on whole-mount zebrafish embryos and young larvae.

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Department of Cell Biology, University of Virginia, 1340 Jefferson Park Avenue, Charlottesville, VA, 22903, USA.


The in situ hybridization uses a labeled complementary RNA strand to localize a specific mRNA sequence in a tissue. This method is widely used to describe the spatial and temporal expression patterns of developmentally regulated genes. Here we describe a technique that employs in vitro synthesized RNA tagged with digoxigenin uridine-5'-triphosphate (UTP) to determine expression of genes on whole-mount zebrafish embryos and young larvae. Following hybridization, the localization of the specific transcript is visualized immunohistochemically using an anti-digoxigenin antibody conjugated to alkaline phosphatase that hydrolyzes the 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indolyl phosphate (BCIP) to 5-bromo-4-chloro-3-indole and inorganic phosphate. 5-Bromo-4-chloro-3-indole can be oxidized by nitro blue tetrazolium (NBT), which forms an insoluble dark blue diformazan precipitate after reduction.This protocol has been used for performing large-scale analyses of the spatial and temporal expression of the zebrafish genome, resulting in the description of more than 8,400 expression patterns that are available at the zebrafish information network ( in the gene expression section.

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