Genomic profiling of zebrafish cardiac pacemaker cells

The cardiac conduction system (CCS) is an essential component of the heart. It is responsible for initiating and coordinating the electrical signals that cause rhythmic and synchronized contractions of the atria and ventricles. The CCS is evolutionarily conserved in the building plan of the heart, and it indicates that the cellular and molecular mechanisms that drive the formation of pacemaker tissues are almost similar among vertebrates. Components of the mammalian conduction system are morphologically well defined in mouse and human. However, the molecular mechanisms by which the CCS cells are set apart and specified from a common cardiomyocyte cell are not thoroughly understood to date.

The study of heart development is often hindered by the fact that the organ is absolutely required for survival in most organisms. In zebrafish (Danio rerio), a functioning cardiac system develops at 24 hpf, but is not essential for the survival of early embryos and thus zebrafish poses a unique advantage in this respect. Furthermore, zebrafish is highly amenable to genetic modifications, and has a short generation time, which allows convenient and rapid analysis of gene function and modelling of human genetic defects. Using zebrafish as an in vivo system, we would like to carry out transcriptomic profiling of these highly specialized cells, coupled with profiling of chromatin state, to indicate important regulatory regions implicated in CCS development. Expression profiling of these cells would help us identify key genes expressed specifically in pacemaker cells. While profiling of chromatin state will allow us to identify regulatory regions active specifically in the CCS. A combination of these profiles will thus become the basis for the assembly of a gene regulatory network underlying the development of the CCS.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 3613 (National Science Centre (NCN), Poland).