Despite the importance of tendons and ligaments for transmitting movement and providing stability to the musculoskeletal system, their development is considerably less well understood than that of the tissues they serve to connect. Zebrafish have been widely used to address questions in muscle and skeletal development, yet few studies describe their tendon and ligament tissues. We have analyzed in zebrafish the expression of several genes known to be enriched in mammalian tendons and ligaments, including scleraxis (scx), collagen 1a2 (col1a2) and tenomodulin (tnmd), or in the tendon-like myosepta of the zebrafish (xirp2a). Co-expression studies with muscle and cartilage markers demonstrate the presence of scxa, col1a2 and tnmd at sites between the developing muscle and cartilage, and xirp2a at the myotendinous junctions. We determined that the zebrafish craniofacial tendon and ligament progenitors are neural crest derived, as in mammals. Cranial and fin tendon progenitors can be induced in the absence of differentiated muscle or cartilage, although neighboring muscle and cartilage are required for tendon cell maintenance and organization, respectively. By contrast, myoseptal scxa expression requires muscle for its initiation. Together, these data suggest a conserved role for muscle in tendon development. Based on the similarities in gene expression, morphology, collagen ultrastructural arrangement and developmental regulation with that of mammalian tendons, we conclude that the zebrafish tendon populations are homologous to their force-transmitting counterparts in higher vertebrates. Within this context, the zebrafish model can be used to provide new avenues for studying tendon biology in a vertebrate genetic system.
- Received September 20, 2013.
- Accepted March 25, 2014.