Slow degeneration of zebrafish Rohon-Beard neurons during programmed cell death

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Abstract

Rohon-Beard cells are large, mechanosensory neurons located in the dorsal spinal cord of anamniote vertebrates. In most species studied to date, these cells die during development. We followed labeled Rohon-Beard cells in living zebrafish embryos and found that they degenerate slowly, over many days. During degeneration, the soma shrinks and finally disappears, and the processes become beady in appearance and finally break apart, but they do not retract. Zebrafish Rohon-Beard cells apparently fragment their DNA, as revealed by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick end-labeling (TUNEL) labeling, before undergoing degenerative morphologic changes. We also followed the development of labeled dorsal root ganglion neurons, as they are developing at the same stages that Rohon-Beard cells are degenerating. We found that, although axons of both cell types extend into similar regions, Rohon-Beard cells degenerate normally in mutants lacking dorsal root ganglia, providing evidence that interactions between the two cell types are not responsible for Rohon-Beard cell degeneration. Developmental Dynamics 229:30–41,2004. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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