The ventral habenulae of zebrafish develop in prosomere 2 dependent on Tcf7l2 function

Beretta, C.A., Dross, N., Bankhead, P., and Carl, M.
Neural Development   8(1): 19 (Journal)
Registered Authors
Beretta, Carlo, Carl, Matthias
Habenula, Tcf, Zebrafish, time-lapse imaging, photoconversion, PSmOrange, neural network, asymmetry
MeSH Terms
  • Animals
  • Diencephalon/embryology
  • Habenula/embryology*
  • Habenula/metabolism
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence, Multiphoton
  • Neurogenesis*
  • Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 Protein/genetics
  • Transcription Factor 7-Like 2 Protein/physiology*
  • Zebrafish/embryology*
  • Zebrafish/genetics
  • Zebrafish/metabolism
  • Zebrafish Proteins/genetics
  • Zebrafish Proteins/physiology*
24067090 Full text @ Neural Dev.


The conserved habenular neural circuit relays cognitive information from the forebrain into the ventral mid- and hindbrain. In zebrafish, the bilaterally formed habenulae in the dorsal diencephalon are made up of the asymmetric dorsal and symmetric ventral habenular nuclei, which are homologous to the medial and lateral nuclei respectively, in mammals. These structures have been implicated in various behaviors related to the serotonergic/dopaminergic neurotransmitter system. The dorsal habenulae develop adjacent to the medially positioned pineal complex. Their precursors differentiate into two main neuronal subpopulations which differ in size across brain hemispheres as signals from left-sided parapineal cells influence their differentiation program. Unlike the dorsal habenulae and despite their importance, the ventral habenulae have been poorly studied. It is not known which genetic programs underlie their development and why they are formed symmetrically, unlike the dorsal habenulae. A main reason for this lack of knowledge is that the vHb origin has remained elusive to date.


To address these questions, we applied long-term 2-photon microscopy time-lapse analysis of habenular neural circuit development combined with depth color coding in a transgenic line, labeling all main components of the network. Additional laser ablations and cell tracking experiments using the photoconvertible PSmOrange system in GFP transgenic fish show that the ventral habenulae develop in prosomere 2, posterior and lateral to the dorsal habenulae in the dorsal thalamus. Mutant analysis demonstrates that the ventral habenular nuclei only develop in the presence of functional Tcf7l2, a downstream modulator of the Wnt signaling cascade. Consistently, photoconverted thalamic tcf7l2exl/exl mutant cells do not contribute to habenula formation.


We show in vivo that dorsal and ventral habenulae develop in different regions of prosomere 2. In the process of ventral habenula formation, functional tcf7l2 gene activity is required and in its absence, ventral habenular neurons do not develop. Influenced by signals from parapineal cells, dorsal habenular neurons differentiate at a time at which ventral habenular cells are still on their way towards their final destination. Thus, our finding may provide a simple explanation as to why only neuronal populations of the dorsal habenulae differ in size across brain hemispheres.

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