Macrophages derive from multiple sources of hematopoietic progenitors. Most macrophages require colony-stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF1R), but some macrophages persist in the absence of CSF1R. Here, we analyzed mpeg1:GFP-expressing macrophages in csf1r-deficient zebrafish and report that embryonic macrophages emerge followed by their developmental arrest. In larvae, mpeg1+ cell numbers then increased showing two distinct types in the skin: branched, putative Langerhans cells, and amoeboid cells. In contrast, although numbers also increased in csf1r-mutants, exclusively amoeboid mpeg1+ cells were present, which we showed by genetic lineage tracing to have a non-hematopoietic origin. They expressed macrophage-associated genes, but also showed decreased phagocytic gene expression and increased epithelial-associated gene expression, characteristic of metaphocytes, recently discovered ectoderm-derived cells. We further demonstrated that juvenile csf1r-deficient zebrafish exhibit systemic macrophage depletion. Thus, csf1r deficiency disrupts embryonic to adult macrophage development. Zebrafish deficient for csf1r are viable and permit analyzing the consequences of macrophage loss throughout life.Immune cells called macrophages are found in all organs in the body. These cells are highly effective at eating and digesting large particles including dead cells and debris, and microorganisms such as bacteria. Macrophages are also instrumental in shaping developing organs and repairing tissues during life. Macrophages were, until recently, thought to be constantly replenished from cells circulating in the bloodstream. However, it turns out that separate populations of macrophages become established in most tissues during embryonic development and are maintained throughout life without further input. Previous studies of zebrafish, rodents and humans have shown that, when a gene called CSF1R is non-functional, macrophages are absent from many organs including the brain. However, some tissue-specific macrophages still persist, and it was not clear why these cells do not rely on the CSF1R gene while others do. Kuil et al. set out to decipher the precise requirement for the CSF1R gene in macrophage development in living zebrafish. The experiments used zebrafish that make a green fluorescent protein in their macrophages. As these fish are transparent, this meant that Kuil et al. could observe the cells within the living fish and isolate them to determine which genes are switched on and off. This approach revealed that zebrafish with a mutated version of the CSF1R gene make macrophages as embryos but that these cells then fail to multiply and migrate into the developing organs. This results in fewer macrophages in the zebrafish’s tissues, and an absence of these cells in the brain. Kuil et al. went on to show that new macrophages did emerge in zebrafish that were about two to three weeks old. However, unexpectedly, these new cells were not regular macrophages. Instead, they were a new recently identified cell-type called metaphocytes, which share similarities with macrophages but have a completely different origin, move faster and do not eat particles. Zebrafish lacking the CSF1R gene thus lose nearly all their macrophages but retain metaphocytes. These macrophage-free mutant zebrafish constitute an unprecedented tool for further studies looking to discriminate the different roles of macrophages and metaphocytes.

CSF1R, developmental biology, hematopoiesis, langerhans cells, macrophages, metaphocytes, microglia, zebrafish,
Department of Clinical Genetics

Kuil, L.E, Oosterhof, N, Ferrero, G. (Giuliano), Mikulášová, T. (Tereza), Hason, M. (Martina), Dekker, J. (Jordy), … van Ham, T.J. (2020). Zebrafish macrophage developmental arrest underlies depletion of microglia and reveals Csf1r-independent metaphocytes. eLife, 9. doi:10.7554/eLife.53403