In situ hybridization (ISH) in embryos allows the visualization of specific RNAs as a readout of gene expression during normal development or after experimental manipulations. ISH using short DNA probes containing locked nucleic acid nucleotides (LNAs) holds the additional advantage of allowing the detection of specific RNA splice variants or of closely related family members that differ in only short regions, creating new diagnostic and detection opportunities. Here we describe methods for using short (14-24 nt) DNA probes containing LNA nucleotides to detect moderately to highly expressed RNAs in whole chick embryos during the first 5 days of embryonic development. The protocol is easily adaptable for use with embryos of other vertebrate species.
To investigate the regulation of calpastatin gene expression, we isolated bovine heart calpastatin cDNAs and 5'-regions of the calpastatin gene. Analysis of 5'-cDNA sequence identified a new translation initiation site that is in frame and 204 nucleotides upstream of the previously designated start site. Conceptual translation from this upstream AUG produces a protein containing 68 additional N-terminal amino acids. This 'XL' region contains three potential PKA phosphorylation sites but shares no homology with other regions of calpastatin or with any known protein. Immunoblot studies demonstrated that heart and liver contain a calpastatin protein of 145 kDa on SDS-polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis that comigrates with full- length bacterially expressed calpastatin and calpastatin produced by coupled in vitro transcription-translation from the upstream AUG. An antibody raised against the XL region recognized the 145-kDa band, demonstrating that the upstream AUG is utilized and that the 145-kDa band represents full-length calpastatin in vivo. Transient transfection assays demonstrated that sequence within 272 nucleotides upstream of transcription initiation of the calpastatin gene is sufficient to direct moderate level transcription. Promoter sequences further upstream act to inhibit or stimulate transcriptional activity. Exposure of transfected cells to dibutyryl cAMP resulted in a 7-20-fold increase in promoter activity for constructs containing at least 272 nucleotides of upstream promoter sequence. Deletion analysis indicates that at least one cAMP-responsive element resides within 102 nucleotides of transcription initiation.
An important and ongoing focus of biomedical and agricultural avian research is to understand gene function, which for a significant fraction of genes remains unknown. A first step is to determine when and where genes are expressed during development and in the adult. Whole mount in situ hybridization gives precise spatial and temporal resolution of gene expression throughout an embryo, and a comprehensive analysis and centralized repository of in situ hybridization information would provide a valuable research tool. The GEISHA project (gallus expression in situ hybridization analysis) was initiated to explore the utility of using high-throughput in situ hybridization as a means for gene discovery and annotation in chicken embryos, and to provide a unified repository for in situ hybridization information. This report describes the design and implementation of a new GEISHA database and user interface (www.geisha.arizona.edu), and illustrates its utility for researchers in the biomedical and poultry science communities. Results obtained from a high throughput screen of microRNA expression in chicken embryos are also presented.