Identifying regulators of tissue regeneration by in vivo imaging in the zebrafish

Project background

Adult stem cells are undifferentiated tissue specific cells that are able to regenerate damaged tissues. A population of stem cells reside in skeletal muscle and can rapidly repair the tissue upon injury but if muscle stem cell function is perturbed this can lead to fibrosis and muscle weakness. Migration of muscle stem cells to sites of muscle damage is thought to be regulated by signals from activated immune cells, such as macrophages. Muscle regeneration can be evaluated in mouse models by creating an injury to the muscle, typically via injection of myotoxic compounds, cryoinjury or weight bearing exercise. One of the issues with using a mammalian model for these studies is the inability to observe regeneration in real time, as tissue must be examined post-mortem.

Why we funded it

This PhD Studentship aims to optimise a larval zebrafish model of muscle regeneration to replace the use of mice and protected zebrafish1 in these studies. 

Muscle regeneration studies currently require multiple animals to be sacrificed at specific endpoints to observe various stages during muscle regeneration. In total, approximately 24 animals would be required to test one experimental variable at four different stages during regeneration. A total of 474 papers were published in 2015 relating to regeneration studies in mouse models, needing approximately 47,000 mice for these studies. Dr Knight and colleagues at King’s College London estimate that the use of zebrafish larvae could replace approximately a fifth of muscle regeneration experiments in mice and protected zebrafish leading to a global replacement of around 10,000 mice per year.

Research Methods

In the proposed larval zebrafish model, an injury to the tailfin muscle will be created using a laser resulting in highly reproducible injuries to minimise the number of fish required in each study. Muscle regeneration will be analysed by confocal microscopy using genetically modified fish so that fluorescently labelled migrating inflammatory cells and muscle stem cells can be tracked in the tailfin. The optical clarity of zebrafish larvae removes the need for euthanasia at specific endpoints instead allowing muscle regeneration to be examined in real time. The newly optimised model will be used to determine the importance of immune cells and migrating stem cells in muscle regeneration and to identify the signals that regulate these processes.  

1 The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 defines protected larval forms of vertebrate animals as independently feeding. Zebrafish larvae begin independently feeding 120 hours post fertilisation so are not considered protected until this time.

Sultan SHA, Dyer C and Knight RD (2021). Notch Signaling Regulates Muscle Stem Cell Homeostasis and Regeneration in a Teleost Fish. Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology 9: e726281. doi: 10.3389/fcell.2021.726281

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PhD Studentship




King's College London

Grant reference number


Award date

Jan 2018 - Nov 2021

Grant amount