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Dis Model Mech. 2016 Apr;9(4):389-400. doi: 10.1242/dmm.021790. Epub 2016 Jan 21.

Phenotypic chemical screening using a zebrafish neural crest EMT reporter identifies retinoic acid as an inhibitor of epithelial morphogenesis.

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Department of Oncological Sciences, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA.
Tolero Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Lehi, UT 84043, USA.
Department of Oncological Sciences, Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112, USA


The epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a highly conserved morphogenetic program essential for embryogenesis, regeneration and cancer metastasis. In cancer cells, EMT also triggers cellular reprogramming and chemoresistance, which underlie disease relapse and decreased survival. Hence, identifying compounds that block EMT is essential to prevent or eradicate disseminated tumor cells. Here, we establish a whole-animal-based EMT reporter in zebrafish for rapid drug screening, calledTg(snai1b:GFP), which labels epithelial cells undergoing EMT to producesox10-positive neural crest (NC) cells. Time-lapse and lineage analysis ofTg(snai1b:GFP)embryos reveal that cranial NC cells delaminate from two regions: an early population delaminates adjacent to the neural plate, whereas a later population delaminates from within the dorsal neural tube. TreatingTg(snai1b:GFP)embryos with candidate small-molecule EMT-inhibiting compounds identified TP-0903, a multi-kinase inhibitor that blocked cranial NC cell delamination in both the lateral and medial populations. RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) analysis and chemical rescue experiments show that TP-0903 acts through stimulating retinoic acid (RA) biosynthesis and RA-dependent transcription. These studies identify TP-0903 as a new therapeutic for activating RAin vivoand raise the possibility that RA-dependent inhibition of EMT contributes to its prior success in eliminating disseminated cancer cells.


Drug screen; EMT; Epithelial mesenchymal; Neural crest; Retinoic acid; Zebrafish

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