BACKGROUND: Vertebrate hematopoiesis is a complex developmental process that is controlled by genes in diverse pathways. To identify novel genes involved in early hematopoiesis, we conducted an ENU (N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea) mutagenesis screen in zebrafish. The mummy (mmy) line was investigated because of its multiple hematopoietic defects. RESULTS: Homozygous mmy embryos lacked circulating blood cell types and were dead by 30 hr post-fertilization (hpf). The mmy mutants did not express myeloid markers and had significantly decreased expression of progenitor and erythroid markers in primitive hematopoiesis. Through positional cloning, we identified a truncation mutation in dhx8 in the mmy fish. dhx8 is the zebrafish ortholog of the yeast splicing factor prp22, which is a DEAH-box RNA helicase. mmy mutants had splicing defects in many genes, including several hematopoietic genes. mmy embryos also showed cell division defects as characterized by disorganized mitotic spindles and formation of multiple spindle poles in mitotic cells. These cell division defects were confirmed by DHX8 knockdown in HeLa cells. CONCLUSIONS: Together, our results confirm that dhx8 is involved in mRNA splicing and suggest that it is also important for cell division during mitosis. This is the first vertebrate model for dhx8, whose function is essential for primitive hematopoiesis in developing embryos.
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