BACKGROUND: The Hedgehog (Hh)-signaling pathway plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of multiple vertebrate and invertebrate organ systems. Gli transcription factors are regulated by Hh-signaling and act as downstream effectors of the pathway to activate Hh-target genes. Understanding the requirements for Hh-signaling in organisms can be gained by assessing Gli activity in a spatial and temporal fashion.
METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We have generated a Gli-dependent (Gli-d) transgenic line, Tg(Gli-d:mCherry), that allows for rapid and simple detection of Hh-responding cell populations in both live and fixed zebrafish. This transgenic line expresses a mCherry reporter under the control of a Gli responsive promoter, which can be followed by using fluorescent microscopy and in situ hybridization. Expression of the mCherry transgene reporter during embryogenesis and early larval development faithfully replicated known expression domains of Hh-signaling in zebrafish, and abrogating Hh-signaling in transgenic fish resulted in the suppression of reporter expression. Moreover, ectopic shh expression in Tg(Glid:mCherry) fish led to increased transgene production. Using this transgenic line we investigated the nature of Hh-pathway response during early craniofacial development and determined that the neural crest skeletal precursors do not directly respond to Hh-signaling prior to 48 hours post fertilization, suggesting that earlier requirements for pathway activation in this population of facial skeleton precursors are indirect.
CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: We have determined that early Hh-signaling requirements in craniofacial development are indirect. We further demonstrate the Tg(Gli-d:mCherry) fish are a highly useful tool for studying Hh-signaling dependent processes during embryogenesis and larval stages.