Higdon, C.W., Mitra, R.D., and Johnson, S.L. (2013) Gene expression analysis of zebrafish melanocytes, iridophores, and retinal pigmented epithelium reveals indicators of biological function and developmental origin. PLoS One. 8(7):e67801.
In order to facilitate understanding of pigment cell biology, we developed a method to concomitantly purify melanocytes, iridophores, and retinal pigmented epithelium from zebrafish, and analyzed their transcriptomes. Comparing expression data from these cell types and whole embryos allowed us to reveal gene expression co-enrichment in melanocytes and retinal pigmented epithelium, as well as in melanocytes and iridophores. We found 214 genes co-enriched in melanocytes and retinal pigmented epithelium, indicating the shared functions of melanin-producing cells. We found 62 genes significantly co-enriched in melanocytes and iridophores, illustrative of their shared developmental origins from the neural crest. This is also the first analysis of the iridophore transcriptome. Gene expression analysis for iridophores revealed extensive enrichment of specific enzymes to coordinate production of their guanine-based reflective pigment. We speculate the coordinated upregulation of specific enzymes from several metabolic pathways recycles the rate-limiting substrate for purine synthesis, phosphoribosyl pyrophosphate, thus constituting a guanine cycle. The purification procedure and expression analysis described here, along with the accompanying transcriptome-wide expression data, provide the first mRNA sequencing data for multiple purified zebrafish pigment cell types, and will be a useful resource for further studies of pigment cell biology.