Ribera, A.B. and Nüsslein-Volhard, C. (1998) Zebrafish touch-insensitive mutants reveal an essential role for the developmental regulation of sodium current. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 18:9181-9191.
Developmental changes in neuronal connectivity and membrane properties underlie the stage-specific appearance of embryonic behaviors. The behavioral response of embryonic zebrafish to tactile stimulation first appears at 27 hr postfertilization. Because the touch response requires the activation of mechanosensory Rohon-Beard neurons, we have used whole-cell recordings in semi-intact preparations to characterize Rohon-Beard cell electrical membrane properties in several touch-insensitive mutants and then to correlate the development of excitability in these cells with changes in wild-type behavior. Electrophysiological analysis of mechanosensory neurons of touch-insensitive zebrafish mutants indicates that in three mutant lines that have been examined the sodium current amplitudes are reduced, and action potentials either have diminished overshoots or are not generated. In macho mutants the action potential never overshoots, and the sodium current remains small; alligator and steifftier show similar but weaker effects. The effects are specific to sodium channel function; resting membrane potentials are unaffected, and outward currents of normal amplitude are present. Developmental analysis of sodium current expression in mechanosensory neurons of wild-type embryos indicates that, during the transition from a touch-insensitive to a touch-sensitive embryo, action potentials acquire larger overshoots and briefer durations as both sodium and potassium currents increase in amplitude. However, in macho touch-insensitive mutants, developmental changes in action potential overshoot and sodium current are absent despite the normal regulation of action potential duration and potassium current. Thus, the maturation of a voltage-dependent sodium current promotes a behavioral response to touch. A study of these mutants will allow insight into the genes controlling the maturation of the affected sodium current.