Zebrafish lacking functional DNA polymerase gamma survive to juvenile stage, despite rapid and sustained mitochondrial DNA depletion, altered energetics and growth. Academic Article uri icon


  • DNA polymerase gamma (POLG) is essential for replication and repair of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Mutations in POLG cause mtDNA instability and a diverse range of poorly understood human diseases. Here, we created a unique Polg animal model, by modifying polg within the critical and highly conserved polymerase domain in zebrafish. polg(+/-) offspring were indistinguishable from WT siblings in multiple phenotypic and biochemical measures. However, polg(-/-) mutants developed severe mtDNA depletion by one week post-fertilization (wpf), developed slowly and had regenerative defects, yet surprisingly survived up to 4 wpf. An in vivo mtDNA polymerase activity assay utilizing ethidium bromide (EtBr) to deplete mtDNA, showed that polg(+/-) and WT zebrafish fully recover mtDNA content two weeks post-EtBr removal. EtBr further reduced already low levels of mtDNA in polg(-/-) animals, but mtDNA content did not recover following release from EtBr. Despite significantly decreased respiration that corresponded with tissue-specific levels of mtDNA, polg(-/-) animals had WT levels of ATP and no increase in lactate. This zebrafish model of mitochondrial disease now provides unique opportunities for studying mtDNA instability from multiple angles, as polg(-/-) mutants can survive to juvenile stage, rather than lose viability in embryogenesis as seen in Polg mutant mice.

publication date

  • December 2, 2015