Wragg, J., Müller, F. (2016) Transcriptional Regulation During Zygotic Genome Activation in Zebrafish and Other Anamniote Embryos. Advances in genetics. 95:161-94.
Embryo development commences with the fusion of two terminally differentiated haploid gametes into the totipotent fertilized egg, which through a series of major cellular and molecular transitions generate a pluripotent cell mass. The activation of the zygotic genome occurs during the so-called maternal to zygotic transition and prepares the embryo for zygotic takeover from maternal factors, in the control of the development of cellular lineages during differentiation. Recent advances in next generation sequencing technologies have allowed the dissection of the genomic and epigenomic processes mediating this transition. These processes include reorganization of the chromatin structure to a transcriptionally permissive state, changes in composition and function of structural and regulatory DNA-binding proteins, and changeover of the transcriptome as it is overhauled from that deposited by the mother in the oocyte to a zygotically transcribed complement. Zygotic genome activation in zebrafish occurs 10 cell cycles after fertilization and provides an ideal experimental platform for elucidating the temporal sequence and dynamics of establishment of a transcriptionally active chromatin state and helps in identifying the determinants of transcription activation at polymerase II transcribed gene promoters. The relatively large number of pluripotent cells generated by the fast cell divisions before zygotic transcription provides sufficient biomass for next generation sequencing technology approaches to establish the temporal dynamics of events and suggest causative relationship between them. However, genomic and genetic technologies need to be improved further to capture the earliest events in development, where cell number is a limiting factor. These technologies need to be complemented with precise, inducible genetic interference studies using the latest genome editing tools to reveal the function of candidate determinants and to confirm the predictions made by classic embryological tools and genome-wide assays. In this review we summarize recent advances in the characterization of epigenetic regulation, transcription control, and gene promoter function during zygotic genome activation and how they fit with old models for the mechanisms of the maternal to zygotic transition. This review will focus on the zebrafish embryo but draw comparisons with other vertebrate model systems and refer to invertebrate models where informative.