Mouse retinal development: Role of cell adhesion and mechanism of gene regulation

Xueyao Fu, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


Cell differentiation and pattern formation are fundamental processes in animal development that are under intense investigation. The mouse retina is a good model to study these processes because it has seven distinct cell types, and three well-laminated nuclear layers that form during embryonic and postnatal life. β-catenin functions as both the nuclear effector for the canonical Wnt pathway and a cell adhesion molecule, and is required for the development of various organs. To study the function of β-catenin in retinal development, I used a Cre-loxP system to conditionally ablate β-catenin in the developing retina. Deletion of β-catenin led to disrupted laminar structure but did not affect the differentiation of any of the seven cell types. Eliminating β-catenin did not reduce progenitor cell proliferation, although enhanced apoptosis was observed. Further analysis showed that disruption of cell adhesion was the major cause of the observed patterning defects. Overexpression of β-catenin during retinal development also disrupted the normal retinal lamination and caused a transdifferentiation of neurons into pigmented cells. The results indicate that β-catenin functions as a cell adhesion molecule but not as a Wnt pathway component during retinal neurogenesis, and is essential for lamination but not cell differentiation. The results further imply that retinal lamination and cell differentiation are genetically separable processes. Sonic hedgehog (shh) is expressed in retinal ganglion cells under the control of transcription factor Pou4f2 during retinal development. Previous studies identified a phylogenetically conserved region in the first intron of shh containing a Pou4f2 binding site. Transgenic reporter mice in which reporter gene expression was driven by this region showed that this element can direct gene expression specifically in the retina, but expression was not limited to the ganglion cells. From these data I hypothesized that this element is required for shh expression in the retina but is not sufficient for specific ganglion cell expression. To further test this hypothesis, I created a conditional allele by flanking this region with two loxP sites. Lines carrying this allele will be crossed with retinal-specific Cre lines to remove this element in the retina. My hypothesis predicts that alteration in shh expression and subsequent retinal defects will occur in the retinas of these mice.

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Recommended Citation

Fu, Xueyao, "Mouse retinal development: Role of cell adhesion and mechanism of gene regulation" (2007). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3256547.