Background Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome (BHD) is a dominantly inherited familial cancer syndrome characterised by the development of benign skin fibrofolliculomas, multiple lung and kidney cysts, spontaneous pneumothorax and susceptibility to renal cell carcinoma. BHD is caused by mutations in the gene encoding Folliculin (FLCN). Little is known about what FLCN does in a healthy individual and how best to treat those with BHD. As a first approach to developing a vertebrate model for BHD we aimed to identify the temporal and spatial expression of flcn transcripts in the developing zebrafish embryo. To gain insights into the function of flcn in a whole organism system we generated a loss of function model of flcn by the use of morpholino knockdown in zebrafish.
Results flcn is expressed broadly and upregulated in the fin bud, somites, eye and proliferative regions of the brain of the Long-pec stage zebrafish embryos. Together with knockdown phenotypes, expression analysis suggest involvement of flcn in zebrafish embryonic brain development. We have utilised the zFucci system, an in vivo, whole organism cell cycle assay to study the potential role of flcn in brain development. We found that at the 18 somite stage there was a significant drop in cells in the S-M phase of the cell cycle in flcn morpholino injected embryos with a corresponding increase of cells in the G1 phase. This was particularly evident in the brain, retina and somites of the embryo. Timelapse analysis of the head region of flcn morpholino injected and mismatch control embryos shows the temporal dynamics of cell cycle misregulation during development.
Conclusions In conclusion we show that zebrafish flcn is expressed in a non-uniform manner and is likely required for the maintenance of correct cell cycle regulation during embryonic development. We demonstrate the utilisation of the zFucci system in testing the role of flcn in cell proliferation and suggest a function for flcn in regulating cell proliferation in vertebrate embryonic brain development.