A whole brain staining, embedding, and clearing pipeline for adult zebrafish to visualize cell proliferation and morphology in 3-dimensions

Benjamin W. Lindsey, Alon M. Douek, Felix Loosli, Jan Kaslin

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27 Citations (Scopus)


The field of macro-imaging has grown considerably with the appearance of innovative clearing methods and confocal microscopes with lasers capable of penetrating increasing tissue depths. The ability to visualize and model the growth of whole organs as they develop from birth, or with manipulation, disease or injury, provides new ways of thinking about development, tissue-wide signaling, and cell-to-cell interactions. The zebrafish (Danio rerio) has ascended from a predominantly developmental model to a leading adult model of tissue regeneration. The unmatched neurogenic and regenerative capacity of the mature central nervous system, in particular, has received much attention, however tools to interrogate the adult brain are sparse. At present there exists no straightforward methods of visualizing changes in the whole adult brain in 3-dimensions (3-D) to examine systemic patterns of cell proliferation or cell populations of interest under physiological, injury, or diseased conditions. The method presented here is the first of its kind to offer an efficient step-by-step pipeline from intraperitoneal injections of the proliferative marker, 5-ethynyl-2'-deoxyuridine (EdU), to whole brain labeling, to a final embedded and cleared brain sample suitable for 3-D imaging using optical projection tomography (OPT). Moreover, this method allows potential for imaging GFP-reporter lines and cell-specific antibodies in the presence or absence of EdU. The small size of the adult zebrafish brain, the highly consistent degree of EdU labeling, and the use of basic clearing agents, benzyl benzoate, and benzyl alcohol, makes this method highly tractable for most laboratories interested in understanding the vertebrate central nervous system in health and disease. Post-processing of OPT-imaged adult zebrafish brains injected with EdU illustrate that proliferative patterns in EdU can readily be observed and analyzed using IMARIS and/or FIJI/IMAGEJ software. This protocol will be a valuable tool to unlock new ways of understanding systemic patterns in cell proliferation in the healthy and injured brain, brain-wide cellular interactions, stem cell niche development, and changes in brain morphology.

Original languageEnglish
Article number750
Number of pages20
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jan 2018


  • Development
  • Macro-imaging
  • Medaka
  • Neurogenesis
  • Optical projection tomography
  • Regeneration
  • Stem cell senescence
  • Tissue clearing

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