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A phenotypic screen in zebrafish identifies a novel small-molecule inducer of ectopic tail formation suggestive of alterations in non-canonical Wnt/PCP signaling

Gebruers, Evelien and Cordero-Maldonado, María Lorena and Gray, Alexander I and Clements, Carol and Harvey, Alan L and Edrada-Ebel, Ruangelie and de Witte, Peter A M and Crawford, Alexander D and Esguerra, Camila V (2013) A phenotypic screen in zebrafish identifies a novel small-molecule inducer of ectopic tail formation suggestive of alterations in non-canonical Wnt/PCP signaling. PLOS One, 8 (12). e83293. ISSN 1932-6203

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Abstract

Zebrafish have recently emerged as an attractive model for the in vivo bioassay-guided isolation and characterization of pharmacologically active small molecules of natural origin. We carried out a zebrafish-based phenotypic screen of over 3000 plant-derived secondary metabolite extracts with the goal of identifying novel small-molecule modulators of the BMP and Wnt signaling pathways. One of the bioactive plant extracts identified in this screen - Jasminum gilgianum, an Oleaceae species native to Papua New Guinea - induced ectopic tails during zebrafish embryonic development. As ectopic tail formation occurs when BMP or non-canonical Wnt signaling is inhibited during the tail protrusion process, we suspected a constituent of this extract to act as a modulator of these pathways. A bioassay-guided isolation was carried out on the basis of this zebrafish phenotype, identifying para-coumaric acid methyl ester (pCAME) as the active compound. We then performed an in-depth phenotypic analysis of pCAME-treated zebrafish embryos, including a tissue-specific marker analysis of the secondary tails. We found pCAME to synergize with the BMP-inhibitors dorsomorphin and LDN-193189 in inducing ectopic tails, and causing convergence-extension defects in compound-treated embryos. These results indicate that pCAME may interfere with non-canonical Wnt signaling. Inhibition of Jnk, a downstream target of Wnt/PCP signaling (via morpholino antisense knockdown and pharmacological inhibition with the kinase inhibitor SP600125) phenocopied pCAME-treated embryos. However, immunoblotting experiments revealed pCAME to not directly inhibit Jnk-mediated phosphorylation of c-Jun, suggesting additional targets of SP600125, and/or other pathways, as possibly being involved in the ectopic tail formation activity of pCAME. Further investigation of pCAME's mechanism of action will help determine this compound's pharmacological utility.