The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 46: 285 - 294 (2002)

Vol 46, Issue 3

Retinal homeobox genes and the role of cell proliferation in cavefish eye degeneration

Published: 1 May 2002

Allen G Strickler, Kuburat Famuditimi and William R Jeffery

Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park 20742-4415, USA.


The teleost Astyanax mexicanus exhibits eyed surface dwelling (surface fish) and blind cave dwelling (cavefish) forms. Despite lacking functional eyes as adults, cavefish embryos form eye primordia, which later arrest in development, degenerate and sink into the orbit. We are comparing the expression patterns of various eye regulatory genes during surfacefish and cavefish development to determine the cause of eye degeneration. Here we examine Rx and Chx/Vsx family homeobox genes, which have a major role in cell proliferation in the vertebrate retina. We isolated and sequenced a full-length RxcDNA clone (As-Rx1) and part of a Chx/Vsx(As-Vsx2) gene, which appear to be most closely related to the zebrafish Rx1 and Alx/Vsx2 genes respectively. In situ hybridization shows that these genes have similar but non-identical expression patterns during Astyanax eye development. Expression is first detected in the optic vesicle, then throughout the presumptive retina of the optic cup, and finally in the ciliary marginal zone (CMZ), the region of the growing retina where most new retinoblasts are formed. In addition, As-Rx1 is expressed in the outer nuclear layer (ONL) of the retina, which contains the photoreceptor cells, and As-Vsx2 is expressed in the inner nuclear layer, probably in the bipolar cells. With the exception of reduced As-Rx-1 expression in the ONL, the As-Rx1 and As-Vsx2 expression patterns were unchanged in the developing retina of two different cavefish populations, suggesting that cell proliferation is not inhibited. These results were confirmed by using PCNA and BrdU markers for retinal cell division. We conclude that the CMZ is active in cell proliferation long after eye growth is diminished and is therefore not the major cause of eye degeneration.

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