Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA; Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA; Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA. Electronic address: [Email]
While genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have revolutionized our understanding of the genetic architecture of skeletal diseases, animal models are required to identify causal mechanisms and to translate underlying biology into new therapies. Despite large-scale knockout mouse phenotyping efforts, the skeletal functions of most genes residing at GWAS-identified loci remain unknown, highlighting a need for complementary model systems to accelerate gene discovery. Over the past several decades, zebrafish (Danio rerio) has emerged as a powerful system for modeling the genetics of human diseases. In this review, our goal is to outline evidence supporting the utility of zebrafish for accelerating our understanding of human skeletal genomics, as well as gaps in knowledge that need to be filled for this purpose. We do this by providing a basic foundation of the zebrafish skeletal morphophysiology and phenotypes, and surveying evidence of skeletal gene homology and the use of zebrafish for post-GWAS analysis in other tissues and organs. We also outline challenges in translating zebrafish mutant phenotypes. Finally, we conclude with recommendations of future directions and how to leverage the large body of tools and knowledge of skeletal genetics in zebrafish for the needs of human skeletal genomic exploration. Due to their amenability to rapid genetic approaches, as well as the large number of conserved genetic and phenotypic features, there is a strong rationale supporting the use of zebrafish for human skeletal genomic studies.