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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Labelling and targeted ablation of specific bipolar cell types in the zebrafish retina

Xiao-Feng Zhao12, Staale Ellingsen13 and Anders Fjose1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Molecular Biology, University of Bergen, PO Box 7803, N-5020 Bergen, Norway

2 Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

3 NIFES, National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research Strandgaten 229, N-5004 Bergen, Norway

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:107  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-107

Published: 27 August 2009



Development of a functional retina depends on regulated differentiation of several types of neurons and generation of a highly complex network between the different types of neurons. In addition, each type of retinal neuron includes several distinct morphological types. Very little is known about the mechanisms responsible for generating this diversity of retinal neurons, which may also display specific patterns of regional distribution.


In a screen in zebrafish, using a trapping vector carrying an engineered yeast Gal4 transcription activator and a UAS:eGFP reporter cassette, we have identified two transgenic lines of zebrafish co-expressing eGFP and Gal4 in specific subsets of retinal bipolar cells. The eGFP-labelling facilitated analysis of axon terminals within the inner plexiform layer of the adult retina and showed that the fluorescent bipolar cells correspond to previously defined morphological types. Strong regional restriction of eGFP-positive bipolar cells to the central part of the retina surrounding the optic nerve was observed in adult zebrafish. Furthermore, we achieved specific ablation of the labelled bipolar cells in 5 days old larvae, using a bacterial nitroreductase gene under Gal4-UAS control in combination with the prodrug metronidazole. Following prodrug treatment, nitroreductase expressing bipolar cells were efficiently ablated without affecting surrounding retina architecture, and recovery occurred within a few days due to increased generation of new bipolar cells.


This report shows that enhancer trapping can be applied to label distinct morphological types of bipolar cells in the zebrafish retina. The genetic labelling of these cells yielded co-expression of a modified Gal4 transcription activator and the fluorescent marker eGFP. Our work also demonstrates the potential utility of the Gal4-UAS system for induction of other transgenes, including a bacterial nitroreductase fusion gene, which can facilitate analysis of bipolar cell differentiation and how the retina recovers from specific ablation of these cells.