Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The zebrafish transcriptome during early development

Liselotte Vesterlund12*, Hong Jiao12, Per Unneberg1, Outi Hovatta3 and Juha Kere124

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, and Science for Life Laboratory, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

2 Clinical Research Centre, Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden

3 Department of Clinical Science, Intervention and Technology, Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska University Hospital, Huddinge, Sweden

4 Department of Medical Genetics, Hartman Institute, University of Helsinki, and Folkhälsan Institute of Genetics, Helsinki, Finland

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BMC Developmental Biology 2011, 11:30  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-11-30

Published: 24 May 2011



The transition from fertilized egg to embryo is accompanied by a multitude of changes in gene expression, and the transcriptional events that underlie these processes have not yet been fully characterized. In this study RNA-Seq is used to compare the transcription profiles of four early developmental stages in zebrafish (Danio rerio) on a global scale.


An average of 79 M total reads were detected from the different stages. Out of the total number of reads 65% - 73% reads were successfully mapped and 36% - 44% out of those were uniquely mapped. The total number of detected unique gene transcripts was 11187, of which 10096 were present at 1-cell stage. The largest number of common transcripts was observed between 1-cell stage and 16-cell stage. An enrichment of gene transcripts with molecular functions of DNA binding, protein folding and processing as well as metal ion binding was observed with progression of development. The sequence data (accession number ERP000635) is available at the European Nucleotide Archive.


Clustering of expression profiles shows that a majority of the detected gene transcripts are present at steady levels, and thus a minority of the gene transcripts clusters as increasing or decreasing in expression over the four investigated developmental stages. The three earliest developmental stages were similar when comparing highly expressed genes, whereas the 50% epiboly stage differed from the other three stages in the identity of highly expressed genes, number of uniquely expressed genes and enrichment of GO molecular functions. Taken together, these observations indicate a major transition in gene regulation and transcriptional activity taking place between the 512-cell and 50% epiboly stages, in accordance with previous studies.