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Assessment of the FRET-based Teen sensor to monitor ERK activation changes preceding morphological defects in a RASopathy zebrafish model and phenotypic rescue by MEK inhibitor.

Molecular Medicine 2024 April 10
BACKGROUND: RASopathies are genetic syndromes affecting development and having variable cancer predisposition. These disorders are clinically related and are caused by germline mutations affecting key players and regulators of the RAS-MAPK signaling pathway generally leading to an upregulated ERK activity. Gain-of-function (GOF) mutations in PTPN11, encoding SHP2, a cytosolic protein tyrosine phosphatase positively controlling RAS function, underlie approximately 50% of Noonan syndromes (NS), the most common RASopathy. A different class of these activating mutations occurs as somatic events in childhood leukemias.

METHOD: Here, we evaluated the application of a FRET-based zebrafish ERK reporter, Teen, and used quantitative FRET protocols to monitor non-physiological RASopathy-associated changes in ERK activation. In a multi-level experimental workflow, we tested the suitability of the Teen reporter to detect pan-embryo ERK activity correlates of morphometric alterations driven by the NS-causing Shp2D61G allele.

RESULTS: Spectral unmixing- and acceptor photobleaching (AB)-FRET analyses captured pathological ERK activity preceding the manifestation of quantifiable body axes defects, a morphological pillar used to test the strength of SHP2 GoF mutations. Last, the work shows that by multi-modal FRET analysis, we can quantitatively trace back the modulation of ERK phosphorylation obtained by low-dose MEK inhibitor treatment to early development, before the onset of morphological defects.

CONCLUSION: This work proves the usefulness of FRET imaging protocols on both live and fixed Teen ERK reporter fish to readily monitor and quantify pharmacologically- and genetically-induced ERK activity modulations in early embryos, representing a useful tool in pre-clinical applications targeting RAS-MAPK signaling.

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