Eachus, H., Zaucker, A., Oakes, J.A., Griffin, A., Weger, M., Güran, T., Taylor, A., Harris, A., Greenfield, A., Quanson, J.L., Storbeck, K.H., Cunliffe, V.T., Müller, F., Krone, N. (2017) Genetic disruption of 21-hydroxylase in zebrafish causes interrenal hyperplasia. Endocrinology. 158(12):4165-4173.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a group of common inherited disorders leading to glucocorticoid deficiency. Most cases are caused by 21-hydroxylase deficiency (21OHD). The systemic consequences of imbalanced steroid hormone biosynthesis due to severe 21OHD remains poorly understood. Therefore, we have developed a zebrafish model for 21OHD, which focuses on the impairment of glucocorticoid biosynthesis. A single 21-hydroxylase gene (cyp21a2) is annotated in the zebrafish genome based on sequence homology. Our in silico analysis of the Cyp21a2 protein sequence suggests a sufficient degree of similarity for the usage of zebrafish cyp21a2 to model aspects of human 21OHD in vivo. We determined the spatio-temporal expression patterns of cyp21a2 by whole mount in situ hybridisation and RT-PCR throughout early development. Early cyp21a2 expression is restricted to the interrenal gland (zebrafish adrenal counterpart) and the brain. To further explore the in vivo consequences of 21-hydroxylase deficiency we created several cyp21a2 null-allele zebrafish lines employing a transcription activator-like effector nuclease genomic engineering strategy. Homozygous mutant zebrafish larvae showed an upregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrrenal axis and interrenal hyperplasia. Furthermore, Cyp21A2-deficient larvae had a typical steroid profile with reduced concentrations of cortisol and increased concentrations of 17-hydroxyprogesterone and 21-deoxycortisol. Affected larvae showed an upregulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-interrrenal axis and interrenal hyperplasia. Downregulation of the glucocorticoid-responsive genes pck1 and fkbp5 indicated systemic glucocorticoid deficiency. Our work demonstrates the crucial role of Cyp21a2 in glucocorticoid biosynthesis in zebrafish larvae and establishes a novel in vivo model allowing for studies of systemic consequences of altered steroid hormone synthesis.