In vivo Functional Consequences of Human THRA Variants Expressed in the Zebrafish

Federica Marelli, Silvia Carra, Giuditta Rurale, Franco Cotelli, Luca Persani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Heterozygous mutations in the thyroid hormone receptor alpha (THRA) gene cause resistance to thyroid hormone alpha (RTHα), a disease characterized by variable manifestations reminiscent of untreated congenital hypothyroidism but a raised triiodothyronine/thyroxine ratio and normal thyrotropin levels. It was recently described that zebrafish embryos expressing a dominant negative (DN) form of thraa recapitulate the key features of RTHα, and that zebrafish and human receptors are functionally interchangeable. Methods: This study expressed several human thyroid hormone receptor alpha (hTRα) variants in zebrafish embryos and analyzed the resulting phenotypes. Results: All hTRα-injected embryos showed variable defects, including cerebral and cardiac edema likely caused by an aberrant looping during heart development, anemia, and an incomplete formation of the vascular network. Moreover, the hTRα-injected embryos presented severe defects of motorneurons and craniofacial development, thus affecting their autonomous feeding and swimming behaviors. Surprisingly, expression of all hTRα mutants had no detectable effect on thyrotropin beta and thyrotropin-releasing hormone transcripts, indicating that their DN action is limited on the thyroid hormone reception beta 2 targets at the hypothalamic/pituitary level in vivo. As previously described in vitro, treatment with high triiodothyronine doses can efficiently revert the observed defects only in embryos injected with missense hTRα variants. Conclusion: Injection of human THRA variants in zebrafish embryos causes tissue-specific defects recapitulating most of the RTHα clinical and biochemical manifestations. The described manipulation of zebrafish embryos represents a novel in vivo model to screen the functional consequences of THRA variants and the rescue potential of new therapeutic compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)279-291
Number of pages13
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2017


  • embryonic development
  • heart development
  • resistance to thyroid hormone
  • THRA
  • thyroid
  • zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Endocrinology


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