Zebrafish pigmentation mutations and the processes of neural crest development.
Neural crest development involves cell-fate specification, proliferation, patterned cell migration, survival and differentiation. Zebrafish neural crest derivatives include three distinct chromatophores, which are well-suited to genetic analysis of their development. As part of a large-scale mutagenesis screen for embryonic/early larval mutations, we have isolated 285 mutations affecting all aspects of zebrafish larval pigmentation. By complementation analysis, we define 94 genes. We show here that comparison of their phenotypes permits classification of these mutations according to the types of defects they cause, and these suggest which process of neural crest development is probably affected. Mutations in eight genes affect the number of chromatophores: these include strong candidates for genes necessary for the processes of pigment cell specification and proliferation. Mutations in five genes remove part of the wild-type pigment pattern, and suggest a role in larval pigment pattern formation. Mutations in five genes show ectopic chromatophores in distinct sites, and may have implications for chromatophore patterning and proliferation. 76 genes affect pigment or morphology of one or more chromatophore types: these mutations include strong candidates for genes important in various aspects of chromatophore differentiation and survival. In combination with the embryological advantages of zebrafish, these mutations should permit cellular and molecular dissection of many aspects of neural crest development.