Local reorganization of xanthophores fine-tunes and colors the striped pattern of zebrafish

Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1362-1364
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254837

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Origin of fish pigment cell for pattern

Zebrafish stripes arise from the interactions of pigment cells: black melanophores, iridescent iridophores, and yellow-orange xanthophores. Melanophores and iridophores develop from nerve-associated stem cells, but the origin of xanthophores is unclear. Two studies now reveal that adult xanthophores originate from xanthophores in embryonic and larval fish, when they proliferate to cover the skin before the arrival of black and silver cells in a striped arrangement. Mahalwar et al. show that xanthophores change their final shape and color depending on their location. In black cells, xanthophores appear faint and stellate, but in silver cells, they are bright and compact. Precise superposition creates the blue and golden colors. McMenamin et al. observe the loss of pigment in embryonic xanthophores and the later reappearance in the adult. They show that redifferentiation depends on the thyroid hormone that also limits melanophore population expansion.

Science, this issue p. 1362 and p. 1358


The pattern of alternating blue and golden stripes displayed by adult zebrafish is composed of three kinds of pigment cells: black melanophores, yellow xanthophores, and silvery-blue iridophores. We analyzed the dynamics of xanthophores during stripe morphogenesis in vivo with long-term time-lapse imaging. Larval xanthophores start to proliferate at the onset of metamorphosis and give rise to adult xanthophores covering the flank before the arrival of stem-cell–derived iridophores and melanophores. Xanthophores compact to densely cover the iridophores forming the interstripe, and they acquire a loose stellate shape over the melanophores in the stripes. Thus, xanthophores, attracted by iridophores and repelling melanophores, sharpen and color the pattern. Variations on these cell behaviors may contribute to the generation of color pattern diversity in fish.

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