Overexpression of thyroid hormone receptor α1 during zebrafish embryogenesis disrupts hindbrain patterning and implicates retinoic acid receptors in the control of hox gene expression



Nuclear receptors play key roles in anterior/posterior (A/P) axis formation during vertebrate embryogenesis. Within this gene family, retinoic acid receptors and retinoic acid itself have profound influences on the establishment of the A/P axis. Thyroid hormone receptors are expressed during early periods of development, long before the establishment of the thyroid gland, and are able to interact with retinoic acid receptors. Here we examined the ability of the thyroid hormone receptor α1 to affect early embryonic development by mRNA injection of either repressor or activator forms of the thyroid hormone receptor. Overexpression of either the thyroid hormone receptor α1 or a constitutive repressor form, v-erbA, caused a swelling in the rostral hindbrain. These defects were associated with disorganization and loss of rhombomere borders as well as an increase in the number of acetylcholine esterase positive cells. This phenotype correlated with a reduction in hoxa1 expression during gastrulation. Furthermore, injection of either thyroid hormone receptor α1 or v-erbA mRNA repressed a reporter gene that contained a retinoic acid response element, demonstrating the ability of the thyroid hormone receptor α1 to repress retinoic acid signaling during gastrulation. In contrast, embryos treated with retinoic acid alone or embryos injected with thyroid hormone receptor α1 and treated with the thyroid hormone analog TRIAC displayed a similar set of defects, including loss of the midbrain-hindbrain border and severe disruption of the rostral hindbrain. These studies support the involvement of retinoic acid and its receptors in the direct control of Hox gene expression and the early patterning of the zebrafish central nervous system.