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

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Science  28 Aug 2014:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254837

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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. Here, 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 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 could be at play in generating the great diversity of color patterns in fish.

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