ZRSR2 is a small nuclear riboprotein necessary for assembly of the minor spliceosome and subsequent splicing of U12-type introns. It is involved in the recognition of 3' splice sites during the assembly of the spliceosome. Somatic mutations in ZRSR2 gene are present in hematopoietic malignancies, most notably myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). These mutations are spread throughout the gene, indicating that its function is critical for hematopoiesis. In spite of these clinical associations, the role of ZRSR2 in hematopoiesis has not been well studied. Zebrafish make an excellent animal model for investigating this gene as all of the functional domains in the human protein are conserved with a high level of protein similarity in zebrafish. Additionally, hematopoietic development is well understood in this species. We used CRISPR/Cas9 to generate a zebrafish zrsr2 knockout model with an 11 base pair deletion (zrsr2Δ11) that results in frameshift with premature truncation and loss of all functional domains (p.W167fs*175). The zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutants began to appear morphologically different from their siblings by 4 days post fertilization (dpf), showing aberrant development in the mandible and pharyngeal arches. The zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutants developed mild to severe edema by 6 dpf and died by 8 dpf. To understand its role in hematopoiesis, we performed o-dianisidine staining and whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH) with lineage-specific markers during embryonic development. Our data showed that zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 embryos exhibit mild anemia by 2 dpf, suggesting that primitive hematopoiesis is defective. WISH showed that zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutants have normal early hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) emergence (c-myb) at 36 hours post fertilization. However, these cells are absent through 3 and 5 dpf. At 5 dpf zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutants had severely reduced expression of hematopoietic markers for erythroid (hbae1), lymphoid (rag1), and myeloid (mpo) lineages. This verifies that knockout of zrsr2 in zebrafish disrupted normal hematopoiesis and leads to cytopenias - emulating the symptoms of MDS. We then investigated the transcriptional and splicing changes underlying these phenotypes using RNA sequencing on zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutant embryos at 3dpf. We found a total of 285 intron retention events in zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutants as compared to the control embryos, with about 76% of those events occurring within U12-type introns. Genes with retained introns were associated with mRNA decay and destabilization. We also found that genes related to cell cycle arrest were upregulated in zrsr2Δ11/Δ11 mutants . These results indicate that aberrant mRNA splicing and cell cycle deregulation contribute to arrested hematopoiesis when zrsr2 is knocked out in zebrafish.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.