van der Vorm, L.N., Paw, B.H. (2017) Studying disorders of vertebrate iron and heme metabolism using zebrafish. Methods in cell biology. 138:193-220.
Iron is a crucial component of heme- and iron-sulfur clusters, involved in vital cellular functions such as oxygen transport, DNA synthesis, and respiration. Both excess and insufficient levels of iron and heme-precursors cause human disease, such as iron-deficiency anemia, hemochromatosis, and porphyrias. Hence, their levels must be tightly regulated, requiring a complex network of transporters and feedback mechanisms. The use of zebrafish to study these pathways and the underlying genetics offers many advantages, among others their optical transparency, ex-vivo development and high genetic and physiological conservations. This chapter first reviews well-established methods, such as large-scale mutagenesis screens that have led to the initial identification of a series of iron and heme transporters and the generation of a variety of mutant lines. Other widely used techniques are based on injection of RNA, including complementary morpholino knockdown and gene overexpression. In addition, we highlight several recently developed approaches, most notably endonuclease-based gene knockouts such as TALENs or the CRISPR/Cas9 system that have been used to study how loss of function can induce human disease phenocopies in zebrafish. Rescue by chemical complementation with iron-based compounds or small molecules can subsequently be used to confirm causality of the genetic defect for the observed phenotype. All together, zebrafish have proven to be - and will continue to serve as an ideal model to advance our understanding of the pathogenesis of human iron and heme-related diseases and to develop novel therapies to treat these conditions.