Garrity DM, Childs S, Fishman MC. 2002. The heartstrings mutation in zebrafish causes heart/fin Tbx5 deficiency syndrome. Development (Cambridge, England). 129(19):4635-45. Pubmed: 12223419


Holt-Oram syndrome is one of the autosomal dominant human "heart-hand" disorders, with a combination of upper limb malformations and cardiac defects. Holt-Oram syndrome is caused by mutations in the TBX5 gene, a member of a large family of T-box transcription factors that play important roles in cell-type specification and morphogenesis. In a screen for mutations affecting zebrafish cardiac function, we isolated the recessive lethal mutant heartstrings, which lacks pectoral fins and exhibits severe cardiac dysfunction, beginning with a slow heart rate and progressing to a stretched, non-functional heart. We mapped and cloned the heartstrings mutation and find it to encode the zebrafish ortholog of the TBX5 gene. The heartstrings mutation causes premature termination at amino acid 316. Homozygous mutant embryos never develop pectoral fin buds and do not express several markers of early fin differentiation. The total absence of any fin bud differentiation distinguishes heartstrings from most other mutations that affect zebrafish fin development, suggesting that Tbx5 functions very early in the pectoral fin induction pathway. Moderate reduction of Tbx5 by morpholino causes fin malformations, revealing an additional early requirement for Tbx5 in coordinating the axes of fin outgrowth. The heart of heartstrings mutant embryos appears to form and function normally through the early heart tube stage, manifesting only a slight bradycardia compared with wild-type siblings. However, the heart fails to loop and then progressively deteriorates, a process affecting the ventricle as well as the atrium. Relative to mammals, fish require lower levels of Tbx5 to produce malformed appendages and display whole-heart rather than atrial-predominant cardiac defects. However, the syndromic deficiencies of tbx5 mutation are remarkably well retained between fish and mammals.

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Photo of Mark C. Fishman

Mark C. Fishman’s group studies the heart-brain connection. They employ a range of genetic, developmental, and neurobiological tools in zebrafish to understand what the heart tells the brain, and how critical internal sensory systems adjust homeostatic and somatic behaviors, including social interactions.

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