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Open Access Research article

Dynamic transcriptomic profiles of zebrafish gills in response to zinc supplementation

Dongling Zheng14, Peter Kille2, Graham P Feeney2, Phil Cunningham1, Richard D Handy3 and Christer Hogstrand1*

Author Affiliations

1 Mineral Metabolism Group, Nutritional Sciences Division, King's College London, London SE1 9NH, UK

2 School of Biosciences, University of Cardiff, Cardiff, CF10 3TL, UK

3 School of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth, Plymouth, PL4 8AA, UK

4 Current Address: Division of Infection and Immunity, Windeyer Institute of Medical Sciences, University College London, London W1T 4JF, UK

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BMC Genomics 2010, 11:553  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-11-553

Published: 11 October 2010



Dietary zinc supplementation may help to promote growth, boost the immune system, protect against diabetes, and aid recovery from diarrhoea. We exploited the zebrafish (Danio rerio) gill as a unique vertebrate ion transporting epithelium model to study the time-dependent regulatory networks of gene-expression leading to homeostatic control during zinc supplementation. This organ forms a conduit for zinc uptake whilst exhibiting conservation of zinc trafficking components.


Fish were maintained with either zinc supplemented water (4.0 μM) and diet (2023 mg zinc kg-1) or water and diet containing Zn2+ at 0.25 μM and 233 mg zinc kg-1, respectively. Gill tissues were harvested at five time points (8 hours to 14 days) and transcriptome changes analysed in quintuplicate using a 16 K microarray with results anchored to gill Zn2+ influx and whole body nutrient composition (protein, carbohydrate, lipid, elements). The number of regulated genes increased up to day 7 but declined as the fish acclimated. In total 525 genes were regulated (having a fold-change more than 1.8 fold change and an adjusted P-value less than 0.1 which is controlling a 10% False discovery rate, FDR) by zinc supplementation, but little overlap was observed between genes regulated at successive time-points. Many genes displayed cyclic expression, typical for homeostatic control mechanisms. Annotation enrichment analysis revealed strong overrepresentation of "transcription factors", with specific association evident with "steroid hormone receptors". A suite of genes linked to "development" were also statistically overrepresented. More specifically, early regulation of genes was linked to a few key transcription factors (e.g. Mtf1, Jun, Stat1, Ppara, Gata3) and was followed by hedgehog and bone morphogenic protein signalling.


The results suggest that zinc supplementation reactivated developmental pathways in the gill and stimulated stem cell differentiation, a response likely reflecting gill remodelling in response to its altered environment. This provides insight to the role of zinc during cell differentiation and illustrates the critical nature of maintaining zinc status. The study also highlights the importance of temporal transcriptomics analysis in order resolve the discrete elements of biological processes, such as zinc acclimation.