The retinal progenitors are multipotential, and the decision taken by a progenitor to differentiate along a particular path depends on both cell-intrinsic and cell-extrinsic factors. Ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), a member of the interleukin-6 (IL-6) family, added to rat postnatal retinal progenitors inhibits rod photoreceptor cell differentiation, promotes Müller glia genesis and enhances the expression of bipolar neuron markers. We hypothesized that those transcripts regulated during CNTF-influenced retinal differentiation may be involved in the choice of progenitor cell fate. Our aim was to isolate these genes, characterize their expression in the retina, and to subsequently focus on candidates that may promote photoreceptor cell differentiation.
Retinas were cultured in vitro as explants at postnatal day 0 (P0) in the absence or presence of CNTF for six days. Transcripts regulated by CNTF after six days in vitro (DIV) were selected by subtraction suppressive hybridization (SSH) and cloned as two libraries. The UC6 and DC6 libraries contained those genes upregulated and downregulated, respectively, in the presence of CNTF at 6DIV.
In the first library, UC6, eight clones representing seven different genes were isolated as up-regulated by CNTF. In the DC6 library, 21 clones, representing 17 different genes appeared as down-regulated by CNTF. Genes were classified in six categories, such as protein modification, signal transduction, and regulation of transcription according to the Gene Ontology Annotation.
Among the 24 selected genes, our study revealed 11 genes (two upregulated and nine downregulated) potentially involved in CNTF biological effects.
The retinas of postembryonic teleost fish continue to grow for the lifetime of the fish. New retinal cells are added continuously at the retinal margin, by stem cells residing at the circumferential germinal zone. Some of these retinal cells differentiate as Müller glia with cell bodies that reside within the inner nuclear layer. These glia retain some stem cell properties in that they carry out asymmetric cell divisions and continuously generate a population of transit-amplifying cells – the rod photoreceptor lineage – that are committed to rod photoreceptor neurogenesis. These rod progenitors progress through a stereotyped sequence of changes in gene expression as they continue to divide and migrate to the outer nuclear layer. Now referred to as rod precursors, they undergo terminal mitoses and then differentiate as rods, which are inserted into the existing array of rod and cone photoreceptors. The rod lineage displays developmental plasticity, as rod precursors can respond to the loss of rods through increased proliferation, resulting in rod replacement. The stem cells of the rod lineage, Müller glia, respond to acute damage of other retinal cell types by increasing their rate of proliferation. In addition, the Müller glia in an acutely damaged retina dedifferentiate and become multipotent, generating new, functional neurons. This review focuses on the cells of the rod lineage and includes discussions of experiments over the last 30 years that led to their identification and characterization, and the discovery of the stem cells residing at the apex of the lineage. The plasticity of cells of the rod lineage, their relationships to cone progenitors, and the applications of this information for developing future treatments for human retinal disorders will also be discussed.
rod; photoreceptor; development; lineage; zebrafish; regeneration; Müller glia
The homeodomain protein, Otx2, is a critical regulator of vertebrate photoreceptor genesis. However, the genetic elements that define the expression of Otx2 during photoreceptor development are unknown. Therefore, we sought to identify an Otx2 enhancer element that functions in photoreceptor development in order to better understand this specification event. Using the technique of electroporation, we tested a number of evolutionarily conserved elements (ECRs) for expression in the developing retina, and identified ECR2 as having robust activity in the retina. We have characterized this element using a number of assays, including Cre-fate mapping experiments. We found that ECR2 recapitulates expression/function of Otx2 primarily in newly postmitotic photoreceptor cells (PRs), as well as in a subset of retinal progenitor cells (RPCs). ECR2 was also found to be expressed in a subset of horizontal cells (HCs), in keeping with the role of Otx2 in HC development. Furthermore, we determined that the ECR2 element is not active in other Otx2-positive cells such as retinal bipolar cells (BPs), retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE), or the tectum, suggesting that the transcriptional networks controlling Otx2 expression in these cells are unique from those of developing PRs and HCs. These results reveal a distinct molecular state in dividing retinal cells and their newly postmitotic progeny, and provide genetic access to an early and critical transcriptional node involved in the genesis of vertebrate PRs.
Neural developmental programs require a high level of coordination between the decision to exit cell cycle and acquisition of cell fate. The Maf-family transcription factor NRL is essential for rod photoreceptor specification in the mammalian retina as its loss of function converts rod precursors to functional cones. Ectopic expression of NRL or a photoreceptor-specific orphan nuclear receptor NR2E3 completely suppresses cone development while concurrently directing the post-mitotic photoreceptor precursors towards rod cell fate. Given that NRL and NR2E3 have overlapping functions and NR2E3 expression is abolished in the Nrl−/− retina, we wanted to clarify the distinct roles of NRL and NR2E3 during retinal differentiation. Here, we demonstrate that NRL binds to a sequence element in the Nr2e3 promoter and enhances its activity synergistically with the homeodomain protein CRX. Using transgenic mice, we show that NRL can only partially suppress cone development in the absence of NR2E3. Gene profiling of retinas from transgenic mice that ectopically express NR2E3 or NRL in cone precursors reveals overlapping and unique targets of these two transcription factors. Together with previous reports, our findings establish the hierarchy of transcriptional regulators in determining rod versus cone cell fate in photoreceptor precursors during the development of mammalian retina.
Retina; Development; Transcription Factor; Maf; Gene Regulation; Cell Fate Determination
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a progressive retinal degeneration in which the retina loses nearly all of its photoreceptor cells and undergoes major structural changes. Little is known regarding the role the resident glia, the Müller glia, play in the progression of the disease. In this article, we define gene expression changes in Müller glial cells (MGCs) from two different mouse models of RP, the retinal degeneration 1 (rd1) and rhodopsin knockout (Rhod-ko) models. The RNA repertoire of single MGCs was comprehensively profiled, and a comparison was made between MGCs from wild-type (WT) and mutant retinas. Two time points were chosen for analysis, one at the peak of rod photoreceptor death and one during the period of cone photoreceptor death.
Retinas were dissociated, and single MGCs were chosen under a dissecting microscope using a micropipette. Single cell cDNAs were generated and genome-wide profiles were obtained by hybridization to Affymetrix arrays. A comparison was made among all samples to discover the changes in gene expression during the periods of rod and cone photoreceptor death.
MGCs respond to retinal degeneration by undergoing gliosis, a process marked by the upregulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein (Gfap). Many additional transcripts were found to change. These can be placed into functional clusters, such as retinal remodeling, stress response, and immune-related response.
A high degree of heterogeneity among the individual cells was observed, possibly due to their different spatial proximities to dying cells and/or inherent heterogeneity among MGCs.
The vertebrate retina is a tractable system in which to address the question of neuronal cell fate specification. Specification of retinal rod photoreceptors is determined by several different transcription factors that activate expression of rod-specific genes and repress expression of cone photoreceptor-specific genes. The mechanism by which this dual regulation occurs is unclear. We have found that Pias3, a transcriptional coregulator and E3 SUMO ligase that is selectively expressed in developing photoreceptors, promotes the differentiation of rod photoreceptors while preventing rods from adopting cone photoreceptor-like characteristics. Pias3 directly interacts with the photoreceptor-specific transcription factors Crx and Nr2e3 and is specifically targeted to the promoters of photoreceptor-specific genes. Pias3 SUMOylates Nr2e3, converting it into a potent repressor of cone-specific gene expression. Rod and cone-specific promoters are bound by hyperSUMOylated proteins in rod photoreceptors, and blocking SUMOylation in photoreceptors results in cells with morphological and molecular features of cones and an absence of rod-specific markers. Our data thus identifies Pias3-mediated SUMOylation of photoreceptor-specific transcription factors as a key mechanism of rod specification.
Retinoic acid (RA) is important for vertebrate eye morphogenesis and is a regulator of photoreceptor development in the retina. In the zebrafish, RA treatment of postmitotic photoreceptor precursors has been shown to promote the differentiation of rods and red-sensitive cones while inhibiting the differentiation of blue- and UV-sensitive cones. The roles played by RA and its receptors in modifying photoreceptor fate remain to be determined.
Treatment of zebrafish embryos with RA, beginning at the time of retinal progenitor cell proliferation and prior to photoreceptor terminal mitosis, resulted in a significant alteration of rod and cone mosaic patterns, suggesting an increase in the production of rods at the expense of red cones. Quantitative pattern analyses documented increased density of rod photoreceptors and reduced local spacing between rod cells, suggesting rods were appearing in locations normally occupied by cone photoreceptors. Cone densities were correspondingly reduced and cone photoreceptor mosaics displayed expanded and less regular spacing. These results were consistent with replacement of approximately 25% of positions normally occupied by red-sensitive cones, with additional rods. Analysis of embryos from a RA-signaling reporter line determined that multiple retinal cell types, including mitotic cells and differentiating rods and cones, are capable of directly responding to RA. The RA receptors RXRγ and RARαb are expressed in patterns consistent with mediating the effects of RA on photoreceptors. Selective knockdown of RARαb expression resulted in a reduction in endogenous RA signaling in the retina. Knockdown of RARαb also caused a reduced production of rods that was not restored by simultaneous treatments with RA.
These data suggest that developing retinal cells have a dynamic sensitivity to RA during retinal neurogenesis. In zebrafish RA may influence the rod vs. cone cell fate decision. The RARαb receptor mediates the effects of endogenous, as well as exogenous RA, on rod development.
We have shown previously that components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) modulate neuronal development. Here, we searched for additional ECM elements that might play roles in retinal histogenesis and identified a secreted glycoprotein that is heavily expressed in the retina. This molecule, named by others Wnt Inhibitory Factor-1 (WIF-1), is expressed during and after the period of rod photoreceptor morphogenesis in the mouse. We show that a potential WIF-1 ligand, Wnt4, as well as a potential Wnt4 receptor, fzd4, and a potential Wnt4 coreceptor, LRP6, are expressed in the region of, and at the time of, rod photoreceptor genesis. WIF-1 and Wnt4 are coexpressed during retinal development and bind to each other; therefore, they are likely to interact during rod production. WIF-1 protein inhibits rod production, and anti-WIF-1 antibodies increase rod production; in contrast, Wnt4 promotes rod production. Together, these data suggest that WIF-1 and Wnt4, both components of the ECM, regulate mammalian photoreceptor development.
A better understanding of photoreceptor fate specification may lead to efficient production of photoreceptors for cell replacement studies. This study investigates the role of proneural bHLH gene neurogenin1 (ngn1) in photoreceptor genesis using the chick retina.
In situ hybridization was used to delineate the spatial and temporal pattern of ngn1 expression. RCAS retrovirus was used to drive overexpression of ngn1 in retinal cells, and siRNA was used to reduce ngn1 expression in loss-of-function experiments.
Chick ngn1 was transiently expressed during early phases of retinal neurogenesis, from embryonic day 3 (E3) to E6, with cells expressing ngn1 confined to the apical side of the retinal neuroepithelium. The time window and the anatomical location of ngn1 expression coincided with photoreceptor genesis and differed from that of other transiently expressed proneural bHLH genes, such as ash1, ath3, ath5, and ngn2. Most ngn1-expressing cells lacked BrdU incorporation and lacked phosphorylated histone H3. In low density cell culture, ngn1 overexpression increased neuroD expression, expanded the photoreceptor population, but reduced the ganglion population. Treatment of dissociated retinal cells with siRNA against ngn1 mRNA specifically reduced the photoreceptor population. Overexpression of ngn1 in the retina reduced the expression of ash1, ath5, chx10, and ngn2.
The data suggest that ngn1 participates in a complex transcriptional network and may play a role in guiding a progenitor cell to the photoreceptor pathway.
gene expression; photoreceptor; retinal development; transcription factors; proneural gene
Retinal cells become post-mitotic early during post-natal development. It is likely that p53, a well-known cell cycle regulator, is involved in regulating the genesis, differentiation and death of retinal cells. Furthermore, retinal cells are under constant oxidative stress that can result in DNA damage, due to the extremely high level of metabolic activity associated with phototransduction. If not repaired, this damage may result in p53-dependent cell death and ensuing vision loss. In this study, the role of p53 during retinal development and in the post-mitotic retina is investigated. A previously described super p53 transgenic mouse that expresses an extra copy of the mouse p53 gene driven by its endogenous promoter is utilized. Another transgenic mouse (HIP) that expresses the p53 gene in rod and cone photoreceptors driven by the human interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein promoter was generated. The electroretinogram (ERG) of the super p53 mouse exhibited reduced rod-driven scotopic a and b wave and cone-driven photopic b wave responses. This deficit resulted from a reduced number of rod photoreceptors and inner nuclear layer cells. However, the reduced photopic signal arose only from lost inner retinal neurons, as cone numbers did not change. Furthermore, cell loss was non-progressive and resulted from increased apoptosis during retinal developmental as determined by TUNEL staining. In contrast, the continuous and specific expression of p53 in rod and cone photoreceptors in the mature retinas of HIP mice led to the selective loss of both rods and cones. These findings strongly support a role for p53 in regulating developmental apoptosis in the retina and suggest a potential role, either direct or indirect, for p53 in the degenerative photoreceptor loss associated with human blinding disorders.
Photoreceptors in the vertebrate retina are light-sensitive neurons, and their degeneration results in irreversible visual loss. Understanding how photoreceptor fate is determined is a prerequisite for developing photoreceptor replacement therapies. Previous studies identified two basic helix-loop-helix genes, neurogenin2 (ngn2) and neuroD, participating in a genetic pathway leading to photoreceptor genesis. Here we present experimental data suggesting that ath5, which is known for its critical role in retinal ganglion cell development, may also lead to photoreceptor production. In the developing retina, ath5 expression was detected in two zones of cells, and coexpression with neuroD was observed in the zone adjacent to young photoreceptor cells accumulating on the retinal pigment epithelial side. Retroviral-driven misexpression of ath5 in retinal cells increased the population of photoreceptor cells, as well as ganglion cells, in a developmental stage-dependent manner that is consistent with ath5 being involved in the development of multiple types of retinal neurons. Ectopic ath5 expression in cultures of non-neural retinal pigment epithelial cells elicited transdifferentiation into cells that expressed photoreceptor-specific genes and displayed photoreceptor-like morphologies. Gene expression analysis showed that ngn2 did not induce ath5, and ath5 did not induce ngn2, but both induced neuroD and RaxL. These data suggest a pathway of “ath5 → neuroD → photoreceptor genes” separate from yet convergent with the ngn2 pathway.
gene; transcription; differentiation; regeneration; photoreceptor; retina
The protein kinase C (PKC) family of enzymes regulates cell physiology through phosphorylation of serine and threonine residues of many proteins in most cell types. Here we have identified PKC-β1 and PKC-γ as isoforms are essential for rod photoreceptor differentiation in mouse retinas. Using ex vivo retinal explants we found that phorbol ester 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF1) induced rod differentiation, as defined by opsin or Crx expression, in a PKC-dependent manner days ahead of rod development in untreated explants. PKC-β1 and PKC-γ were co-localized with PCNA- and STAT3-positive progenitors through the later differentiation period. Pharmacological or genetic inhibition of either isoform resulted in partial reduction in appearance of rods, whereas removing both isoforms resulted in their complete absence. Furthermore, a significant decline of STAT3 tyrosine phosphorylation was observed by activation of PKC, while inhibition of PKC resulted in an increase of phosphorylated STAT3 along with a delayed cell cycle exit of progenitors with prolonged PCNA expression. In adult retinas IGF1 activates PI-3 kinase (PI3K) but in neonatal retinas its action was identical to the action of an PI3K inhibitor. These data unveil a novel signaling cascade that co-ordinates and regulates rod differentiation through specific PKC isoforms in mammals.
PKC; rod photoreceptors; IGF1; STAT3
neuroD is a member of the family of proneural genes, which function to regulate the cell cycle, cell fate determination and cellular differentiation. In the retinas of larval and adult teleosts, neuroD is expressed in two populations of post-mitotic cells, a subset of amacrine cells and nascent cone photoreceptors, and proliferating cells in the lineages that give rise exclusively to rod and cone photoreceptors. Based on previous studies of NeuroD function in vitro and the cellular pattern of neuroD expression in the zebrafish retina, we hypothesized that within the mitotic photoreceptor lineages NeuroD selectively regulates aspects of the cell cycle. To test this hypothesis, gain and loss-of-function approaches were employed, relying on the inducible expression of a NeuroDEGFP fusion protein and morpholino oligonucleotides to inhibit protein translation, respectively. Conditional expression of neuroD causes cells to withdraw from the cell cycle, upregulate the expression of the cell cycle inhibitors, p27 and p57, and downregulate the cell cycle progression factors, Cyclin B1, Cyclin D1, and Cyclin E2. In the absence of NeuroD, cells specific for the rod and cone photoreceptor lineage fail to exit the cell cycle, and the number of cells expressing Cyclin D1 is increased. When expression is ectopically induced in multipotent progenitors, neuroD promotes the genesis of rod photoreceptors and inhibits the genesis of Müller glia. These data show that in the teleost retina NeuroD plays a fundamental role in photoreceptor genesis by regulating mechanisms that promote rod and cone progenitors to withdraw from the cell cycle. This is the first in vivo demonstration in the retina of cell cycle regulation by NeuroD.
cell cycle; transgenic; neurogenesis; cyclins
Advanced age contributes to clinical manifestations of many retinopathies and represents a major risk factor for age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in the elderly. Rod photoreceptors are especially vulnerable to genetic defects and changes in microenvironment, and are among the first neurons to die in normal aging and in many retinal degenerative diseases. The molecular mechanisms underlying rod photoreceptor vulnerability and potential biomarkers of the aging process in this highly specialized cell type are unknown.
To discover aging-associated adaptations that may influence rod function, we have generated gene expression profiles of purified rod photoreceptors from mouse retina at young adult to early stages of aging (1.5, 5, and 12 month old mice). We identified 375 genes that showed differential expression in rods from 5 and 12 month old mouse retina compared to that of 1.5 month old retina. Quantitative RT-PCR experiments validated expression change for a majority of the 25 genes that were examined. Macroanalysis of differentially expressed genes using gene class testing and protein interaction networks revealed overrepresentation of cellular pathways that are potentially photoreceptor-specific (angiogenesis and lipid/retinoid metabolism), in addition to age-related pathways previously described in several tissue types (oxidative phosphorylation, stress and immune response).
Our study suggests a progressive shift in cellular homeostasis that may underlie aging-associated functional decline in rod photoreceptors and contribute to a more permissive state for pathological processes involved in retinal diseases.
The lipid phosphatase PTEN is a critical negative regulator of extracellular signal-induced PI3K activities, yet the roles of PTEN in the neural retina remain poorly understood. Here, we investigate the function of PTEN during retinal development. Deletion of Pten at the onset of neurogenesis in retinal progenitors results in the reduction of retinal ganglion cells and rod photoreceptors, but increased Müller glial genesis. In addition, PTEN deficiency leads to elevated phosphorylation of Akt, especially in the developing inner plexiform layer, where high levels of PTEN are normally expressed. In Pten mutant retinas, various subtypes of amacrine cells show severe dendritic overgrowth, causing specific expansion of the inner plexiform layer. However, the outer plexiform layer remains relatively undisturbed in the Pten deficient retina. Physiological analysis detects reduced rod function and augmented oscillatory potentials originating from amacrine cells in Pten mutants. Furthermore, deleting Pten or elevating Akt activity in individual amacrine cells is sufficient to disrupt dendritic arborization, indicating that Pten activity is required cell autonomously to control neuronal morphology. Moreover, inhibiting endogenous Akt activity attenuates inner plexiform layer formation in vitro. Together, these findings demonstrate that suppression of PI3K/Akt signaling by PTEN is crucial for proper neuronal differentiation and normal retinal network formation.
Mouse retinal development; PTEN function; retinal specific knockout; PI3K/Akt signaling; amacrine cell morphogenesis
Inherited defects in retinal photoreceptor structure impair visual transduction, disrupt relationship with the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and compromise cell viability. A variety of progressive retinal degenerative diseases can result, and knowledge of disease etiology remains incomplete. To investigate pathogenic mechanisms in such instances, we have characterized rod photoreceptor and retinal gene expression changes in response to a defined insult to photoreceptor structure, using the retinal degeneration slow (rds) mouse model. Global gene expression profiling was performed on flow-sorted rds and wild-type rod photoreceptors immediately prior and subsequent to times at which OSs are normally elaborated. Dysregulated genes were identified via microarray hybridization, and selected candidates were validated using quantitative PCR analyses. Both the array and qPCR data revealed that gene expression changes were generally modest and dispersed amongst a variety of known functional networks. Although genes showing major (>5-fold) differential expression were identified in a few instances, nearly all displayed transient temporal profiles, returning to WT levels by postnatal day (P) 21. These observations suggest that major defects in photoreceptor cell structure may induce early homeostatic responses, which function in a protective manner to promote cell viability. We identified a single key gene, Egr1, that was dysregulated in a sustained fashion in rds rod photoreceptors and retina. Egr1 upregulation was associated with microglial activation and migration into the outer retina at times subsequent to the major peak of photoreceptor cell death. Interestingly, this response was accompanied by neurotrophic factor upregulation. We hypothesize that activation of Egr1 and neurotrophic factors may represent a protective immune mechanism which contributes to the characteristically slow retinal degeneration of the rds mouse model.
Vertebrate retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) are pluripotent, but pass through competence states that progressively restrict their developmental potential (Cepko et al., 1996; Livesey and Cepko, 2001; Cayouette et al., 2006). In the rodent eye, seven retinal cell classes differentiate in overlapping waves, with RGCs, cone photoreceptors, horizontals and amacrines forming predominantly before birth, and rod photoreceptors, bipolars and Müller glia differentiating postnatally. Both intrinsic and extrinsic factors regulate each retinal cell type (reviewed in Livesey and Cepko, 2001). Here, we conditionally deleted the transcription factor Rbpj, a critical integrator of multiple Notch signals (Jarriault et al., 1995; Honjo, 1996; Kato et al., 1997; Han et al., 2002), during prenatal mouse retinal neurogenesis. Removal of Rbpj caused reduced proliferation, premature neuronal differentiation, apoptosis and profound mispatterning. To determine the cell autonomous requirements for Rbpj during RGC and cone formation, we marked Cre-generated retinal lineages with GFP expression, which showed that Rbpj autonomously promotes RPC mitotic activity, and suppresses RGC and cone fates. In addition, the progressive loss of Rbpj−/− RPCs resulted in a diminished progenitor pool available for rod photoreceptor formation. This circumstance, along with the overproduction of Rbpj−/− cones, revealed that photoreceptor development is under homeostatic regulation. Finally, to understand how the Notch pathway regulates the simultaneous formation of multiple cell types, we compared the RGC and cone phenotypes of Rbpj to Notch1 (Jadhav et al., 2006b; Yaron et al., 2006), Notch3 and Hes1 mutants. We found particular combinations of Notch pathway genes regulate the development of each retinal cell type.
mouse; Rbpj; Notch signaling; retinal ganglion cell; cone photoreceptor; rod photoreceptor
This report presents an analysis of the retinal gene expression profile in a transgenic strain of zebrafish that experiences a continuous cycle of rod photoreceptor development and regeneration.
XOPS-mCFP transgenic zebrafish experience a continual cycle of rod photoreceptor development and degeneration throughout life, making them a useful model for investigating the molecular determinants of rod photoreceptor regeneration. The purpose of this study was to compare the gene expression profiles of wild-type and XOPS-mCFP retinas and identify genes that may contribute to the regeneration of the rods.
Adult wild-type and XOPS-mCFP retinal mRNA was subjected to microarray analysis. Pathway analysis was used to identify biologically relevant processes that were significantly represented in the dataset. Expression changes were verified by RT-PCR. Selected genes were further examined during retinal development and in adult retinas by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry and in a transgenic fluorescent reporter line.
More than 600 genes displayed significant expression changes in XOPS-mCFP retinas compared with expression in wild-type controls. Many of the downregulated genes were associated with phototransduction, whereas upregulated genes were associated with several biological functions, including cell cycle, DNA replication and repair, and cell development and death. RT-PCR analysis of a subset of these genes confirmed the microarray results. Three transcription factors (sox11b, insm1a, and c-myb), displaying increased expression in XOPS-mCFP retinas, were also expressed throughout retinal development and in the persistently neurogenic ciliary marginal zone.
This study identified numerous gene expression changes in response to rod degeneration in zebrafish and further suggests a role for the transcriptional regulators sox11b, insm1a, and c-myb in both retinal development and rod photoreceptor regeneration.
Retinal degeneration is a leading cause of irreversible blindness in the developed world. Differentiation of retinal cells, including photoreceptors, from both mouse and human ES and iPS cells, potentially provide a renewable source of cells for retinal transplantation. Previously, we have shown both the functional integration of transplanted rod photoreceptor precursors, isolated from the postnatal retina, in the adult murine retina, and photoreceptor cell generation by stepwise treatment of ES cells with defined factors. In this study we assessed the extent to which this protocol recapitulates retinal development and also evaluated differentiation and integration of ES cell-derived retinal cells following transplantation using our established procedures. Optimized retinal differentiation via isolation of Rax.GFP retinal progenitors recreated a retinal niche and increased the yield of Crx+ and Rhodopsin+ photoreceptors. Rod birth peaked at day 20 of culture and expression of the early photoreceptor markers Crx and Nrl increased until day 28. Nrl levels were low in ES cell-derived populations compared with developing retinae. Transplantation of early stage retinal cultures produced large tumors, which were avoided by prolonged retinal differentiation (up to day 28) prior to transplantation. Integrated mature photoreceptors were not observed in the adult retina, even when more than 60% of transplanted ES cell-derived cells expressed Crx. We conclude that exclusion of proliferative cells from ES cell-derived cultures is essential for effective transplantation. Despite showing expression profiles characteristic of immature photoreceptors, the ES cell-derived precursors generated using this protocol did not display transplantation competence equivalent to precursors from the postnatal retina.
Embryonic stem cells; Retina; Cell transplantation; Photoreceptor cells; Fluorescent protein reporter genes; Stem cell transplantation
Amyloid precursor protein (APP) is a transmembrane glycoprotein frequently studied for its role in Alzheimer's disease. Our recent study in APP knockout (KO) mice identified an important role for APP in modulating normal neuronal development in the retina. However the role APP plays in the adult retina and whether it is required for vision is unknown. In this study we evaluated the role of APP in retinal function and morphology comparing adult wildtype (WT) and APP-KO mice. APP was expressed on neuronal cells of the inner retina, including horizontal, cone bipolar, amacrine and ganglion cells in WT mice. The function of the retina was assessed using the electroretinogram and although the rod photoreceptor responses were similar in APP-KO and WT mice, the post-photoreceptor, inner retinal responses of both the rod and cone pathways were reduced in APP-KO mice. These changes in inner retinal function did not translate to a substantial change in visual acuity as assessed using the optokinetic response or to changes in the gross cellular structure of the retina. These findings indicate that APP is not required for basic visual function, but that it is involved in modulating inner retinal circuitry.
Purpose. Transplantation of stem, progenitor, or precursor cells has resulted in photoreceptor replacement and evidence of functional efficacy in rodent models of retinal degeneration. Ongoing work has been directed toward the replication of these results in a large animal model, namely, the pig. Methods. Retinal progenitor cells were derived from the neural retina of GFP-transgenic pigs and transplanted to the subretinal space of rhodopsin Pro347Leu-transgenic allorecipients, in the early stage of the degeneration and the absence of immune suppression. Results. Results confirm the survival of allogeneic porcine RPCs without immune suppression in the setting of photoreceptor dystrophy. The expression of multiple photoreceptor markers by grafted cells included the rod outer segment-specific marker ROM-1. Further evidence of photoreceptor differentiation included the presence of numerous photoreceptor rosettes within GFP-positive grafts, indicative of the development of cellular polarity and self-assembly into rudiments of outer retinal tissue. Conclusion. Together, these data support the tolerance of RPCs as allografts and demonstrate the high level of rod photoreceptor development that can be obtained from cultured RPCs following transplantation. Strategies for further progress in this area, together with possible functional implications, are discussed.
How does a retinal progenitor choose to differentiate as a rod or a cone and, if it becomes a cone, which one of their different subtypes? The mechanisms of photoreceptor cell fate specification and differentiation have been extensively investigated in a variety of animal model systems, including human and non-human primates, rodents (mice and rats), chickens, frogs (Xenopus) and fish. It appears timely to discuss whether it is possible to synthesize the resulting information into a unified model applicable to all vertebrates. In this review we focus on several widely used experimental animal model systems to highlight differences in photoreceptor properties among species, the diversity of developmental strategies and solutions that vertebrates use to create retinas with photoreceptors that are adapted to the visual needs of their species, and the limitations of the methods currently available for the investigation of photoreceptor cell fate specification. Based on these considerations, we conclude that we are not yet ready to construct a unified model of photoreceptor cell fate specification in the developing vertebrate retina.
Examples of direct differentiation by defined transcription factors have been provided for beta-cells, cardiomyocytes and neurons. In the human visual system, there are four kinds of photoreceptors in the retina. Neural retina and iris-pigmented epithelium (IPE) share a common developmental origin, leading us to test whether human iris cells could differentiate to retinal neurons. We here define the transcription factor combinations that can determine human photoreceptor cell fate. Expression of rhodopsin, blue opsin and green/red opsin in induced photoreceptor cells were dependent on combinations of transcription factors: A combination of CRX and NEUROD induced rhodopsin and blue opsin, but did not induce green opsin; a combination of CRX and RX induced blue opsin and green/red opsin, but did not induce rhodopsin. Phototransduction-related genes as well as opsin genes were up-regulated in those cells. Functional analysis; i.e. patch clamp recordings, clearly revealed that generated photoreceptor cells, induced by CRX, RX and NEUROD, responded to light. The response was an inward current instead of the typical outward current. These data suggest that photosensitive photoreceptor cells can be generated by combinations of transcription factors. The combination of CRX and RX generate immature photoreceptors: and additional NEUROD promotes maturation. These findings contribute substantially to a major advance toward eventual cell-based therapy for retinal degenerative diseases.
We previously reported that Otx2 is essential for photoreceptor cell fate determination; however, the functional role of Otx2 in postnatal retinal development is still unclear although it has been reported to be expressed in retinal bipolar cells and photoreceptors at postnatal stages. In this study, we first examined the roles of Otx2 in the terminal differentiation of photoreceptors by analyzing Otx2; Crx double-knockout mice. In Otx2+/−; Crx−/− retinas, photoreceptor degeneration and downregulation of photoreceptor-specific genes were much more prominent than in Crx−/− retinas, suggesting that Otx2 has a role in the terminal differentiation of the photoreceptors. Moreover, bipolar cells decreased in the Otx2+/−; Crx−/− retina, suggesting that Otx2 is also involved in retinal bipolar-cell development. To further investigate the role of Otx2 in bipolar-cell development, we generated a postnatal bipolar-cell-specific Otx2 conditional-knockout mouse line. Immunohistochemical analysis of this line showed that the expression of protein kinase C, a marker of mature bipolar cells, was significantly downregulated in the retina. Electroretinograms revealed that the electrophysiological function of retinal bipolar cells was impaired as a result of Otx2 ablation. These data suggest that Otx2 plays a functional role in the maturation of retinal photoreceptor and bipolar cells.
Rod and cone photoreceptors in mammalian retina are generated from common pool(s) of neuroepithelial progenitors. NRL, CRX and NR2E3 are key transcriptional regulators that control photoreceptor differentiation. Mutations in NR2E3, a rod-specific orphan nuclear receptor, lead to loss of rods, increased density of S-cones and supernormal S-cone-mediated vision in humans. To better understand its in vivo function, NR2E3 was expressed ectopically in the Nrl−/− retina, where post-mitotic precursors fated to be rods develop into functional S-cones similar to the human NR2E3 disease. Expression of NR2E3 in the Nrl−/− retina completely suppressed cone differentiation and resulted in morphologically rod-like photoreceptors, which were however not functional. Gene profiling of FACS-purified photoreceptors confirmed the role of NR2E3 as a strong suppressor of cone genes but an activator of only a subset of rod genes (including rhodopsin) in vivo. Ectopic expression of NR2E3 in cone precursors and differentiating S-cones of wild-type retina also generated rod-like cells. The dual regulatory function of NR2E3 was not dependent upon the presence of NRL and/or CRX, but on the timing and level of its expression. Our studies reveal a critical role of NR2E3 in establishing functional specificity of NRL-expressing photoreceptor precursors during retinal neurogenesis.