Arduini, B.L., and Henion, P.D. (2004) Melanophore sublineage-specific requirement for zebrafish touchtone during neural crest development. Mechanisms of Development. 121(11):1353-1364.
The specification, differentiation and maintenance of diverse cell types are of central importance to the development of multicellular organisms. The neural crest of vertebrate animals gives rise to many derivatives, including pigment cells, peripheral neurons, glia and elements of the craniofacial skeleton. The development of neural crest-derived pigment cells has been studied extensively to elucidate mechanisms involved in cell fate specification, differentiation, migration and survival. This analysis has been advanced considerably by the availability of large numbers of mouse and, more recently, zebrafish mutants with defects in pigment cell development. We have identified the zebrafish mutant touchtone (tct), which is characterized by the selective absence of most neural crest-derived melanophores. We find that although wild-type numbers of melanophore precursors are generated in the first day of development and migrate normally in tct mutants, most differentiated melanophores subsequently fail to appear. We demonstrate that the failure in melanophore differentiation in tct mutant embryos is due at least in part to the death of melanoblasts and that tct function is required cell autonomously by melanoblasts. The tct locus is located on chromosome 18 in a genomic region apparently devoid of genes known to be involved in melanophore development. Thus, zebrafish tct may represent a novel as well as selective regulator of melanoblast development within the neural crest lineage. Further, our results suggest that, like other neural crest-derived sublineages, melanogenic precursors constitute a heterogeneous population with respect to genetic requirements for development.