Open Access Research article

The epigenetic regulator Histone Deacetylase 1 promotes transcription of a core neurogenic programme in zebrafish embryos

Michael RM Harrison13, Aristophanes S Georgiou14, Herman P Spaink2 and Vincent T Cunliffe1*

Author Affiliations

1 MRC Centre for Developmental and Biomedical Genetics, Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, United Kingdom

2 Institute of Biology, University of Leiden, Wassenaarseweg 64, Leiden, 2333 AL, The Netherlands

3 Current Address: Saban Research Institute Childrens Hospital Los Angeles 4650 Sunset Blvd. MS# 137 Los Angeles, CA 90027, USA

4 Current Address: Department of Zoology, Tinbergen Building, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PS, UK

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BMC Genomics 2011, 12:24  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-12-24

Published: 12 January 2011



The epigenetic regulator Histone Deacetylase 1 (Hdac1) is required for specification and patterning of neurones and myelinating glia during development of the vertebrate central nervous system (CNS). This co-ordinating function for Hdac1 is evolutionarily conserved in zebrafish and mouse, but the mechanism of action of Hdac1 in the developing CNS is not well-understood.


A genome-wide comparative analysis of the transcriptomes of Hdac1-deficient and wild-type zebrafish embryos was performed, which identified an extensive programme of gene expression that is regulated by Hdac1 in the developing embryo. Using time-resolved expression profiling of embryos, we then identified a small subset of 54 genes within the Hdac1-regulated transcriptome that specifically exhibit robust and sustained Hdac1-dependent expression from early neurogenesis onwards. 18 of these 54 stringently Hdac1-regulated genes encode DNA-binding transcription factors that are implicated in promoting neuronal specification and CNS patterning, including the proneural bHLH proteins Ascl1a and Ascl1b, as well as Neurod4 and Neurod. Relatively few genes are strongly repressed by Hdac1 but expression of the Notch target gene her6 is attenuated by Hdac1 in specific sub-regions of the developing CNS, from early stages of neurogenesis onwards. Selected members of the stringently Hdac1-regulated group of genes were tested for Hdac1 binding to their promoter-proximal cis-regulatory elements. Surprisingly, we found that Hdac1 is specifically and stably associated with DNA sequences within the promoter region of ascl1b during neurogenesis, and that this Hdac1-ascl1b interaction is abolished in hdac1 mutant embryos.


We conclude that Hdac1 regulates histone acetylation and methylation in the developing zebrafish embryo and promotes the sustained, co-ordinate transcription of a small set of transcription factor genes that control expansion and diversification of cell fates within the developing CNS. Our in vivo chromatin immunoprecipitation results also suggest a specific function for Hdac1 in directly regulating transcription of a key member of this group of genes, ascl1b, from the beginning of neurogenesis onwards. Taken together, our observations indicate a novel role for Hdac1 as a positive regulator of gene transcription during development of the vertebrate CNS, in addition to its more well-established function in transcriptional repression.