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1.  Otx2 ChIP-seq Reveals Unique and Redundant Functions in the Mature Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e89110.
During mouse retinal development and into adulthood, the transcription factor Otx2 is expressed in pigment epithelium, photoreceptors and bipolar cells. In the mature retina, Otx2 ablation causes photoreceptor degeneration through a non-cell-autonomous mechanism involving Otx2 function in the supporting RPE. Surprisingly, photoreceptor survival does not require Otx2 expression in the neural retina, where the related Crx homeobox gene, a major regulator of photoreceptor development, is also expressed. To get a deeper view of mouse Otx2 activities in the neural retina, we performed chromatin-immunoprecipitation followed by massively parallel sequencing (ChIP-seq) on Otx2. Using two independent ChIP-seq assays, we identified consistent sets of Otx2-bound cis-regulatory elements. Comparison with our previous RPE-specific Otx2 ChIP-seq data shows that Otx2 occupies different functional domains of the genome in RPE cells and in neural retina cells and regulates mostly different sets of genes. To assess the potential redundancy of Otx2 and Crx, we compared our data with Crx ChIP-seq data. While Crx genome occupancy markedly differs from Otx2 genome occupancy in the RPE, it largely overlaps that of Otx2 in the neural retina. Thus, in accordance with its essential role in the RPE and its non-essential role in the neural retina, Otx2 regulates different gene sets in the RPE and the neural retina, and shares an important part of its repertoire with Crx in the neural retina. Overall, this study provides a better understanding of gene-regulatory networks controlling photoreceptor homeostasis and disease.
PMCID: PMC3928427  PMID: 24558479
2.  Differential CRX and OTX2 expression in human retina and retinoblastoma 
Journal of neurochemistry  2009;111(1):250-263.
The histogenesis of retinoblastoma tumors remains controversial, with the cell-of-origin variably proposed to be an uncommitted retinal progenitor cell, a bipotent committed cell, or a cell committed to a specific lineage. Here, we examine the expression of two members of the orthodenticle family implicated in photoreceptor and bipolar cell differentiation, cone-rod homeobox, CRX, and orthodenticle homeobox 2, OTX2, in normal human retina, retinoblastoma cell lines and retinoblastoma tumors. We show that CRX and OTX2 have distinct expression profiles in the developing human retina, with CRX first expressed in proliferating cells and cells committed to the bipolar lineage, and OTX2 first appearing in the photoreceptor lineage. In the mature retina, CRX levels are highest in photoreceptor cells whereas OTX2 is preferentially found in bipolar cells and in the retinal pigmented epithelium. Both CRX and OTX2 are widely expressed in retinoblastoma cell lines and in retinoblastoma tumors, although CRX is more abundant than OTX2 in the differentiated elements of retinoblastoma tumors such as large rosettes, Flexner-Wintersteiner rosettes and fleurettes. Widespread expression of CRX and OTX2 in retinoblastoma tumors and cell lines suggests a close link between the cell-of-origin of retinoblastoma tumors and cells expressing CRX and OTX2.
PMCID: PMC3726384  PMID: 19686387 CAMSID: cams3215
bipolar; cone-rod homeobox; orthodenticle homeobox 2; photoreceptor; proliferation; retina; retinoblastoma
3.  Otx2 Gene Deletion in Adult Mouse Retina Induces Rapid RPE Dystrophy and Slow Photoreceptor Degeneration 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11673.
Many developmental genes are still active in specific tissues after development is completed. This is the case for the homeobox gene Otx2, an essential actor of forebrain and head development. In adult mouse, Otx2 is strongly expressed in the retina. Mutations of this gene in humans have been linked to severe ocular malformation and retinal diseases. It is, therefore, important to explore its post-developmental functions. In the mature retina, Otx2 is expressed in three cell types: bipolar and photoreceptor cells that belong to the neural retina and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a neighbour structure that forms a tightly interdependent functional unit together with photoreceptor cells.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Conditional self-knockout was used to address the late functions of Otx2 gene in adult mice. This strategy is based on the combination of a knock-in CreERT2 allele and a floxed allele at the Otx2 locus. Time-controlled injection of tamoxifen activates the recombinase only in Otx2 expressing cells, resulting in selective ablation of the gene in its entire domain of expression. In the adult retina, loss of Otx2 protein causes slow degeneration of photoreceptor cells. By contrast, dramatic changes of RPE activity rapidly occur, which may represent a primary cause of photoreceptor disease.
Our novel mouse model uncovers new Otx2 functions in adult retina. We show that this transcription factor is necessary for long-term maintenance of photoreceptors, likely through the control of specific activities of the RPE.
PMCID: PMC2908139  PMID: 20657788
4.  Identification of a Retina-specific Otx2 Enhancer Element Active in Immature Developing Photoreceptors 
Developmental Biology  2011;360(1):241-255.
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.
PMCID: PMC3339761  PMID: 21963459
5.  Analysis of Transcriptional Regulatory Pathways of Photoreceptor Genes by Expression Profiling of the Otx2-Deficient Retina 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(5):e19685.
In the vertebrate retina, the Otx2 transcription factor plays a crucial role in the cell fate determination of both rod and cone photoreceptors. We previously reported that Otx2 conditional knockout (CKO) mice exhibited a total absence of rods and cones in the retina due to their cell fate conversion to amacrine-like cells. In order to investigate the entire transcriptome of the Otx2 CKO retina, we compared expression profile of Otx2 CKO and wild-type retinas at P1 and P12 using microarray. We observed that expression of 101- and 1049-probe sets significantly decreased in the Otx2 CKO retina at P1 and P12, respectively, whereas, expression of 3- and 4149-probe sets increased at P1 and P12, respectively. We found that expression of genes encoding transcription factors involved in photoreceptor development, including Crx, Nrl, Nr2e3, Esrrb, and NeuroD, was markedly down-regulated in the Otx2 CKO at both P1 and P12. Furthermore, we identified three human retinal disease loci mapped in close proximity to certain down-regulated genes in the Otx2 CKO retina including Ccdc126, Tnfsf13 and Pitpnm1, suggesting that these genes are possibly responsible for these diseases. These transcriptome data sets of the Otx2 CKO retina provide a resource on developing rods and cones to further understand the molecular mechanisms underlying photoreceptor development, function and disease.
PMCID: PMC3094341  PMID: 21602925
6.  Requirement of histone deacetylase activity for the expression of critical photoreceptor genes 
Histone deacetylases (HDACs) play a major role in the regulation of gene transcription, often leading to transcriptional repression, as well as other effects following deacetylation of non-histone proteins.
To investigate the role of HDACs in the developing mammalian retina, a general inhibitor of HDACs, trichostatin-A (TSA), was used to treat newborn murine retinae in explant cultures. Inhibition of HDAC activity resulted in a reduction in RNA levels for genes that regulate retinal development, as well as cell cycle regulators. Several of the genes encode transcription factors essential for rod photoreceptor development, Otx2, Nrl, and Crx. Using luciferase reporter assays, the promoter activity of both Nrl and Crx was found to be compromised by HDAC inhibition. Furthermore, downregulation of gene expression by HDAC inhibition didn't require de novo protein synthesis, and was associated with hyperacetylation of histones and non-histone proteins. Finally, HDAC inhibition in retinal explant cultures resulted in increased cell death, reduction in proliferation, a complete loss of rod photoreceptors and Müller glial cells, and an increase in bipolar cells.
HDAC activity is required for the expression of critical pro-rod transcription factors and the development of rod photoreceptor cells.
PMCID: PMC1914050  PMID: 17603891
7.  Robust Marking of Photoreceptor Cells and Pinealocytes with Several Reporters under Control of the Crx Gene 
Crx is a member of the Otx family of homeobox genes with expression restricted to vertebrate retinal photoreceptor and bipolar cells as well as the pinealocytes of the pineal organ. To facilitate the visualization of Crx-expressing cells, we generated transgenic mice expressing several reporters under the control of the Crx regulatory sequences present within a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC). These mice expand the transgenic mouse collection, which uses photoreceptor regulatory elements for reporter gene expression by providing a broader repertoire of reporter genes. In addition, since Crx is expressed very soon after a cell fated to be a photoreceptor cell becomes postmitotic, they provide a means for early identification of immature photoreceptor cells.
PMCID: PMC2965029  PMID: 19882727
Crx; photoreceptors; retina; reporter; BAC transgenic
8.  OTX2 and CRX rescue overlapping and photoreceptor-specific functions in the Drosophila eye 
Otd-related transcription factors are evolutionarily conserved to control anterior patterning and neurogenesis. In humans, two such factors, OTX2 and CRX, are expressed in all photoreceptors from early specification through adulthood and associate with several photoreceptor-specific retinopathies. It is not well understood how these factors function independently vs. redundantly, or how specific mutations lead to different disease outcomes. It is also unclear how OTX1 and OTX2 functionally overlap during other aspects of neurogenesis and ocular development. Drosophila encodes a single Otd factor that has multiple functions during eye development. Using the Drosophila eye as a model, we tested the ability of the human OTX1, OTX2, and CRX genes, as well as several disease-associated CRX alleles, to rescue the different functions of Otd.
Our results indicate the following: OTX2 and CRX display overlapping, yet distinct subfunctions of Otd during photoreceptor differentiation; CRX disease alleles can be functionally distinguished based on their rescue properties; and all three factors are able to rescue rhabdomeric photoreceptor morphogenesis.
Our findings have important implications for understanding how Otx proteins have subfunctionalized during evolution, and cement Drosophila as an effective tool to unravel the molecular bases of photoreceptor pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3444242  PMID: 22113834
rhodopsin; orthodenticle; eye; sense organ; congenital disease; retina
9.  Analysis of the Otd-dependent transcriptome supports the evolutionary conservation of CRX/OTX/OTD functions in flies and vertebrates 
Developmental biology  2008;315(2):521-534.
Homeobox transcription factors of the vertebrate CRX/OTX family play critical roles in photoreceptor neurons, the rostral brain and circadian processes. In mouse, the three related proteins CRX, OTX1, and OTX2 fulfill these functions. In Drosophila, the single founding-member of this gene family, called orthodenticle (otd), is required during embryonic brain and photoreceptor neuron development. We have used global gene expression analysis in late pupal heads to better characterize the post-embryonic functions of Otd in Drosophila. We have identified 61 genes that are differentially expressed between wild type and a viable eye-specific otd mutant allele. Among them, about one third represent potentially direct targets of Otd based on their association with evolutionarily conserved Otd-binding sequences. The spectrum of biological functions associated with these gene targets establishes Otd as a critical regulator of photoreceptor morphology and phototransduction, as well as suggests its involvement in circadian processes. Together with the well documented role of otd in embryonic patterning, this evidence shows that vertebrate and fly genes contribute to analogous biological processes notwithstanding the significant divergence of the underlying genetic pathways. Our findings underscore the common evolutionary history of photoperception-based functions in vertebrates and invertebrates and support the view that a complex nervous system was already present in the last common ancestor of all bilateria.
PMCID: PMC2329912  PMID: 18241855
phototransduction; photoreceptor; circadian rhythms; orthodenticle; ocelliless; oc; visual transduction; eye evolution; photoreceptor development
10.  Maximizing Functional Photoreceptor Differentiation From Adult Human Retinal Stem Cells 
Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2010;28(3):489-500.
Retinal stem cells (RSCs) are present in the ciliary margin of the adult human eye and can give rise to all retinal cell types. Here we show that modulation of retinal transcription factor gene expression in human RSCs greatly enriches photoreceptor progeny, and that strong enrichment was obtained with the combined transduction of OTX2 and CRX together with the modulation of CHX10. When these genetically modified human RSC progeny are transplanted into mouse eyes, their retinal integration and differentiation is superior to unmodified RSC progeny. Moreover, electrophysiologic and behavioral tests show that these transplanted cells promote functional recovery in transducin mutant mice. This study suggests that gene modulation in human RSCs may provide a source of photoreceptor cells for the treatment of photoreceptor disease.
PMCID: PMC2933833  PMID: 20014120
Retinal stem cells; Photoreceptor; Regeneration
11.  Evaluation of retinoic acid therapy for OTX2-positive medulloblastomas 
Neuro-Oncology  2010;12(7):655-663.
The homeobox transcription factor OTX2 plays an essential role during embryonic brain development. It is normally silenced in the adult brain, but is overexpressed by genomic amplification or other mechanisms in the majority of medulloblastomas (MBs). Retinoic acids (RAs) can suppress OTX2 expression and inhibit MB growth. In this study, 9-cis RA most potently inhibited MB cell growth. 9-cis RA functions through the downregulation of OTX2 expression, which subsequently induces neuronal differentiation of OTX2-expressing cells. Treatment with 9-cis RA reduced the growth of D425 flank xenograft tumors in mice. In an intracranial model, however, MB tumors showed resistance to 9-cis RA treatment, and we implicated fibroblast growth factor (FGF) as a potential mediator of resistance to RA therapy. These findings suggest a mechanism for RA-mediated anti-tumor effect on OTX2-positive MB cells and indicate that therapeutic targeting of OTX2 might be effective if FGF pathway-mediated resistance can be overcome.
PMCID: PMC2940451  PMID: 20511190
FGF; medulloblastoma; OTX2; retinoic acid
12.  Otx but Not Mitf Transcription Factors Are Required for Zebrafish Retinal Pigment Epithelium Development 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49357.
Otx and Mitf transcription factors have been implicated in the development of the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE), but the relationship between these factors and their specific roles in the development of the RPE have not been fully defined. The role of the three Otx transcription factors (Otx1a, Otx1b, and Otx2) and two Mitf transcription factors (Mitfa and Mitfb) in the development of the zebrafish RPE was explored in these experiments. The loss of Otx activity through morpholino knockdown produced variable eye defects, ranging from delayed RPE pigmentation to severe coloboma, depending on the combination of Otx factors that were targeted. Expression analysis through in situ hybridization demonstrates that otx transcription factors are necessary for the proper expression of mitfa and mitfb while Mitf transcription factors are not required for the expression of otx genes. Surprisingly, the loss of Mitf activity in mitfa, mitfb, or double mitf mutant zebrafish had no effect on RPE pigmentation or development. Moreover, histological analysis revealed that retinal lamination is unaffected in mitf mutants, as well as in otx morphants, even in regions lacking RPE. Otx and Mitf combined loss of function experiments suggest that mitfa and mitfb may still influence zebrafish RPE development. This is further supported by the ability of mitfa to induce pigmentation in the zebrafish retina when misexpressed. These findings suggest that one or more Otx targets in addition to mitfa and mitfb, possibly another mitf family member, are necessary for development of the RPE in zebrafish.
PMCID: PMC3489725  PMID: 23139843
13.  Differential Expression of Photoreceptor-Specific Genes in the Retina of a Zebrafish Cadherin2 Mutant glass onion and Zebrafish Cadherin4 Morphants 
Experimental eye research  2006;84(1):163-175.
Cadherins are Ca++-dependent transmembrane molecules that mediate cell-cell adhesion through homophilic interactions. Cadherin2 (also called N-cadherin) and cadherin4 (also called R-cadherin), members of the classic cadherin subfamily, have been shown to be involved in development of a variety of tissues and organs including the visual system. To gain insight into cadherin2 and cadherin4 function in differentiation of zebrafish photoreceptors, we have analyzed expression patterns of several photoreceptor-specific genes (crx, gnat1, gnat2, irbp, otx5, rod opsin, rx1, and uv opsin) and/or a cone photoreceptor marker (zpr-1) in the retina of a zebrafish cadherin2 mutant, glass onion (glo) and in zebrafish embryos injected with a cadherin4 specific antisense morpholino oligonucleotide (cdh4MO). We find that expression of all these genes, and of zpr-1, is greatly reduced in the retina of both the glo and cadherin4 morphants. Moreover, in these embryos, expression of some genes (e.g. gnat1, gnat2 and irbp) is more affected than others (e.g.rod opsin and uv opsin). In embryos with both cadherins functions blocked (glo embryos injected with the cdh4MO), the eye initially formed, but became severely and progressively disintegrated and expressed little or no crx and otx5 as development proceeded. Our results suggest that cadherin2 and cadherin4 play important roles in the differentiation of zebrafish retinal photoreceptors.
PMCID: PMC1853368  PMID: 17070801
retina; rods and cones; development; cell adhesion molecules; Danio rerio
14.  Regulation of photoreceptor gene expression by the retinal homeobox (Rx) gene product 
Developmental biology  2010;339(2):494-506.
The retinal homeobox (Rx) gene product is essential for eye development. However little is known about its molecular function. It has been demonstrated that Rx binds to photoreceptor conserved element (PCE-1), a highly conserved element found in the promoter region of photoreceptor-specific genes such as rhodopsin and red cone opsin. We verify that Rx is co-expressed with rhodopsin and red cone opsin in maturing photoreceptors and demonstrate that Rx binds to the rhodopsin and red cone opsin promoters in vivo. We also find that Rx can cooperate with the Xenopus analogs of Crx and Nrl, otx5b and XLMaf (respectively), to activate a Xenopus opsin promoter-dependent reporter. Finally, we demonstrate that reduction of Rx expression in tadpoles results in decreases in expression of several PCE-1 containing photoreceptor genes, abnormal photoreceptor morphology, and impaired vision. Our data suggests that Rx, in combination with other transcription factors, is necessary for normal photoreceptor gene expression, maintenance, and function. This establishes a direct role for Rx in regulation of genes expressed in a differentiated cell type.
PMCID: PMC2830336  PMID: 20060393
retinal homeobox; Rx; photoreceptors; rhodopsin; red cone opsin; retinal development; shRNA; Argonaute 2
15.  Evolutionary conservation of otd/Otx2 transcription factor action: a genome-wide microarray analysis in Drosophila 
Genome Biology  2002;3(4):research0015.1-research0015.15.
Homeobox genes of the orthodenticle (otd)/Otx family have conserved roles in the embryogenesis of head and brain. Gene replacement experiments show that the Drosophila otd gene and orthologous mammalian Otx genes are functionally equivalent, in that overexpression of either gene in null mutants of Drosophila or mouse can restore defects in cephalic and brain development. This suggests that otd and Otx genes control a comparable subset of downstream target genes in either organism. Here we use quantitative transcript imaging to analyze this equivalence of otd and Otx gene action at a genomic level.
Oligonucleotide arrays representing 13,400 annotated Drosophila genes were used to study differential gene expression in flies in which either the Drosophila otd gene or the human Otx2 gene was overexpressed. Two hundred and eighty-seven identified transcripts showed highly significant changes in expression levels in response to otd overexpression, and 682 identified transcripts showed highly significant changes in expression levels in response to Otx2 overexpression. Among these, 93 showed differential expression changes following overexpression of either otd or Otx2, and for 90 of these, comparable changes were observed under both experimental conditions. We postulate that these transcripts are common downstream targets of the fly otd gene and the human Otx2 gene in Drosophila.
Our experiments indicate that approximately one third of the otd-regulated transcripts also respond to overexpression of the human Otx2 gene in Drosophila. These common otd/Otx2 downstream genes are likely to represent the molecular basis of the functional equivalence of otd and Otx2 gene action in Drosophila.
PMCID: PMC115189  PMID: 11983056
16.  Otx2 Is Involved in the Regional Specification of the Developing Retinal Pigment Epithelium by Preventing the Expression of Sox2 and Fgf8, Factors That Induce Neural Retina Differentiation 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e48879.
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) shares its developmental origin with the neural retina (NR). When RPE development is disrupted, cells in the presumptive RPE region abnormally differentiate into NR-like cells. Therefore, the prevention of NR differentiation in the presumptive RPE area seems to be essential for regionalizing the RPE during eye development. However, its molecular mechanisms are not fully understood. In this study, we conducted a functional inhibition of a transcription factor Otx2, which is required for RPE development, using early chick embryos. The functional inhibition of Otx2 in chick eyes, using a recombinant gene encoding a dominant negative form of Otx2, caused the outer layer of the optic cup (the region forming the RPE, when embryos normally develop) to abnormally form an ectopic NR. In that ectopic NR, the characteristics of the RPE did not appear and NR markers were ectopically expressed. Intriguingly, the repression of Otx2 function also caused the ectopic expression of Fgf8 and Sox2 in the outer layer of the optic cup (the presumptive RPE region of normally developing eyes). These two factors are known to be capable of inducing NR cell differentiation in the presumptive RPE region, and are not expressed in the normally developing RPE region. Here, we suggest that Otx2 prevents the presumptive RPE region from forming the NR by repressing the expression of both Fgf8 and Sox2 which induce the NR cell fate.
PMCID: PMC3493611  PMID: 23145006
17.  Cooperative activation of Xenopus rhodopsin transcription by paired-like transcription factors 
In vertebrates, rod photoreceptor-specific gene expression is regulated by the large Maf and Pax-like transcription factors, Nrl/LNrl and Crx/Otx5. The ubiquitous occurrence of their target DNA binding sites throughout rod-specific gene promoters suggests that multiple transcription factor interactions within the promoter are functionally important. Cooperative action by these transcription factors activates rod-specific genes such as rhodopsin. However, a quantitative mechanistic explanation of transcriptional rate determinants is lacking.
We investigated the contributions of various paired-like transcription factors and their cognate cis-elements to rhodopsin gene activation using cultured cells to quantify activity. The Xenopus rhodopsin promoter (XOP) has a bipartite structure, with ~200 bp proximal to the start site (RPP) coordinating cooperative activation by Nrl/LNrl-Crx/Otx5 and the adjacent 5300 bp upstream sequence increasing the overall expression level. The synergistic activation by Nrl/LNrl-Crx/Otx5 also occurred when XOP was stably integrated into the genome. We determined that Crx/Otx5 synergistically activated transcription independently and additively through the two Pax-like cis-elements, BAT1 and Ret4, but not through Ret1. Other Pax-like family members, Rax1 and Rax2, do not synergistically activate XOP transcription with Nrl/LNrl and/or Crx/Otx5; rather they act as co-activators via the Ret1 cis-element.
We have provided a quantitative model of cooperative transcriptional activation of the rhodopsin promoter through interaction of Crx/Otx5 with Nrl/LNrl at two paired-like cis-elements proximal to the NRE and TATA binding site. Further, we have shown that Rax genes act in cooperation with Crx/Otx5 with Nrl/LNrl as co-activators of rhodopsin transcription.
PMCID: PMC3937059  PMID: 24499263
18.  A specific box switches the cell fate determining activity of XOTX2 and XOTX5b in the Xenopus retina 
Neural Development  2007;2:12.
Otx genes, orthologues of the Drosophila orthodenticle gene (otd), play crucial roles in vertebrate brain development. In the Xenopus eye, Xotx2 and Xotx5b promote bipolar and photoreceptor cell fates, respectively. The molecular basis of their differential action is not completely understood, though the carboxyl termini of the two proteins seem to be crucial. To define the molecular domains that make the action of these proteins so different, and to determine whether their retinal abilities are shared by Drosophila OTD, we performed an in vivo molecular dissection of their activity by transfecting retinal progenitors with several wild-type, deletion and chimeric constructs of Xotx2, Xotx5b and otd.
We identified a small 8–10 amino acid divergent region, directly downstream of the homeodomain, that is crucial for the respective activities of XOTX2 and XOTX5b. In lipofection experiments, the exchange of this 'specificity box' completely switches the retinal activity of XOTX5b into that of XOTX2 and vice versa. Moreover, the insertion of this box into Drosophila OTD, which has no effect on retinal cell fate, endows it with the specific activity of either XOTX protein. Significantly, in cell transfection experiments, the diverse ability of XOTX2 and XOTX5b to synergize with NRL, a cofactor essential for vertebrate rod development, to transactivate the rhodopsin promoter is also switched depending on the box. We also show by GST-pull down that XOTX2 and XOTX5b differentially interact with NRL, though this property is not strictly dependent on the box.
Our data provide molecular evidence on how closely related homeodomain gene products can differentiate their functions to regulate distinct cell fates. A small 'specificity box' is both necessary and sufficient to confer on XOTX2 and XOTX5b their distinct activities in the developing frog retina and to convert the neutral orthologous OTD protein of Drosophila into a positive and specific XOTX-like retinal regulator. Relatively little is known of what gives developmental specificity to homeodomain regulators. We propose that this box is a major domain of XOTX proteins that provides them with the appropriate developmental specificity in retinal histogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1929070  PMID: 17597530
19.  Synaptogenesis and outer segment formation are perturbed in the neural retina of Crx mutant mice 
BMC Neuroscience  2005;6:5.
In Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), affected individuals are blind, or nearly so, from birth. This early onset suggests abnormal development of the neural retina. Mutations in genes that affect the development and/or function of photoreceptor cells have been found to be responsible in some families. These examples include mutations in the photoreceptor transcription factor, Crx.
A Crx mutant strain of mice was created to serve as a model for LCA and to provide more insight into Crx's function. In this study, an ultrastructural analysis of the developing retina in Crx mutant mice was performed. Outer segment morphogenesis was found to be blocked at the elongation stage, leading to a failure in production of the phototransduction apparatus. Further, Crx-/- photoreceptors demonstrated severely abnormal synaptic endings in the outer plexiform layer.
This is the first report of a synaptogenesis defect in an animal model for LCA. These data confirm the essential role this gene plays in multiple aspects of photoreceptor development and extend our understanding of the basic pathology of LCA.
PMCID: PMC548520  PMID: 15676071
20.  Regulation of photoreceptor gene expression by Crx-associated transcription factor network 
Brain research  2007;1192:114-133.
Rod and cone photoreceptors in the mammalian retina are special types of neurons that are responsible for phototransduction, the first step of vision. Development and maintenance of photoreceptors require precisely regulated gene expression. This regulation is mediated by a network of photoreceptor transcription factors centered on Crx, an Otx-like homeodomain transcription factor. The cell type (subtype) specificity of this network is governed by factors that are preferentially expressed by rods or cones or both, including the rod-determining factors neural retina leucine zipper protein (Nrl) and the orphan nuclear receptor Nr2e3; and cone-determining factors, mostly nuclear receptor family members. The best-documented of these include thyroid hormone receptor β2 (Trβ2), retinoid related orphan receptor Rorβ, and retinoid X receptor Rxrγ. The appropriate function of this network also depends on general transcription factors and co-factors that are ubiquitously expressed, such as the Sp zinc finger transcription factors and STAGA coactivator complexes. These cell type-specific and general transcription regulators form complex interactomes; mutations that interfere with any of the interactions can cause photoreceptor development defects or degeneration. In this manuscript, we review recent progress on the roles of various photoreceptor transcription factors and interactions in photoreceptor subtype development. We also provide evidence of auto-, para-, and feedback regulation among these factors at the transcriptional level. These protein-protein and protein-promoter interactions provide precision and specificity in controlling photoreceptor subtype-specific gene expression, development and survival. Understanding these interactions may provide insights to more effective therapeutic interventions for photoreceptor diseases.
PMCID: PMC2266892  PMID: 17662965
Crx; retina development; cone and rod photoreceptors; transcription factor network; nuclear receptor; homeodomain
21.  Defining the integration capacity of ES cell-derived photoreceptor precursors 
Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2012;30(7):1424-1435.
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.
PMCID: PMC3580313  PMID: 22570183
Embryonic stem cells; Retina; Cell transplantation; Photoreceptor cells; Fluorescent protein reporter genes; Stem cell transplantation
22.  Regulation of the human tyrosinase gene in retinal pigment epithelium cells: the significance of transcription factor orthodenticle homeobox 2 and its polymorphic binding site 
Molecular Vision  2012;18:38-54.
Tyrosinase is the rate-limiting enzyme responsible for melanin biosynthesis in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) of the eye. Melanin has an important role in retinal development, function, and protection against light-induced oxidative stress, and melanin levels are associated with age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Because the levels of and protection afforded by melanin seem to decline with increasing age, proper regulation of the human tyrosinase gene (TYR) in the RPE is an important but insufficiently understood process. Our purpose was to obtain detailed information on regulation of the TYR gene promoter in the human RPE and to specify the role of orthodenticle homeobox 2 (OTX2) and microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (MITF).
We used luciferase reporter constructs to study regulation of the human TYR gene promoter in cultured human RPE cells. We further studied the role of OTX2 and MITF, their binding sites, and endogenous expression by using mutagenesis, electrophoretic mobility shift assay, yeast two-hybrid assay, RNA interference, and gene expression analyses.
In the RPE, OTX2 activated the human TYR gene promoter via direct trans-activation of novel OTX2 binding elements. In addition, we found that indirect activation by OTX2 via more proximal MITF binding sites, even in the absence of OTX2 sites, took place. These results are consistent with the physical interaction observed between OTX2 and MITF. Overexpression or knockdown of OTX2 in RPE cells resulted in corresponding changes in tyrosinase mRNA expression. Finally, we found that a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP rs4547091) at the most proximal OTX2 binding site is associated with altered nuclear protein binding and a remarkable decrease in TYR promoter activity in RPE cells. This single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) is more common in the European population in which AMD is also more prevalent.
In the RPE, OTX2 activates the human TYR gene promoter by direct DNA binding and by interaction with MITF. Such synergistic interaction highlights the role of OTX2 as a potential coregulator of numerous MITF target genes in the eye. Genetic differences in OTX2 binding sites affect tyrosinase regulation. Collectively, these findings emphasize the role of OTX2 in regulating the human TYR gene, with implications for inter-individual differences in melanin synthesis, retinal development, and function as well as susceptibility to retinal degeneration associated with aging.
PMCID: PMC3258524  PMID: 22259223
23.  Changes in Otx2 and Parvalbumin Immunoreactivity in the Superior Colliculus in the Platelet-Derived Growth Factor Receptor-β Knockout Mice 
BioMed Research International  2013;2013:848265.
The superior colliculus (SC), a relay nucleus in the subcortical visual pathways, is implicated in socioemotional behaviors. Homeoprotein Otx2 and β subunit of receptors of platelet-derived growth factor (PDGFR-β) have been suggested to play an important role in development of the visual system and development and maturation of GABAergic neurons. Although PDGFR-β-knockout (KO) mice displayed socio-emotional deficits associated with parvalbumin (PV-)immunoreactive (IR) neurons, their anatomical bases in the SC were unknown. In the present study, Otx2 and PV-immunolabeling in the adult mouse SC were investigated in the PDGFR-β KO mice. Although there were no differences in distribution patterns of Otx2 and PV-IR cells between the wild type and PDGFR-β KO mice, the mean numbers of both of the Otx2- and PV-IR cells were significantly reduced in the PDGFR-β KO mice. Furthermore, average diameters of Otx2- and PV-IR cells were significantly reduced in the PDGFR-β KO mice. These findings suggest that PDGFR-β plays a critical role in the functional development of the SC through its effects on Otx2- and PV-IR cells, provided specific roles of Otx2 protein and PV-IR cells in the development of SC neurons and visual information processing, respectively.
PMCID: PMC3844215  PMID: 24319691
24.  Ectopic Mitf in the Embryonic Chick Retina by Co-transfection of β-Catenin and Otx2 
The present study shows, by electroporation of chick embryonic eyes, that co-transfection of activated β-catenin and Otx2 can convert retinal progenitor cells into presumptive RPE cells expressing Mitf.
Development of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is controlled by intrinsic and extrinsic regulators including orthodenticle homeobox 2 (Otx2) and the Wnt/β-catenin pathway, respectively. Otx2 and β-catenin are necessary for the expression of the RPE key regulator microphthalmia-associated transcription factor (Mitf); however, neither factor is sufficient to promote Mitf expression in vivo. The study was conducted to determine whether Otx2 and β-catenin act in a combinatorial manner and tested whether co-expression in the presumptive chick retina induces ectopic Mitf expression.
The sufficiency of Wnt/β-catenin activation and/or Otx2 expression to induce RPE-specific gene expression was examined in chick optic vesicle explant cultures or in the presumptive neural retina using in ovo-electroporation. Luciferase assays were used to examine the transactivation potentials of Otx2 and β-catenin on the Mitf-D enhancer and autoregulation of the Mitf-D and Otx2T0 enhancers.
In optic vesicles explant cultures, RPE-specific gene expression was activated by lithium chloride, a Wnt/β-catenin agonist. However, in vivo, Mitf was induced only in the presumptive retina if both β-catenin and Otx2 are co-expressed. Furthermore, both Mitf and Otx2 can autoregulate their own enhancers in vitro.
The present study provides evidence that β-catenin and Otx2 are sufficient, at least in part, to convert retinal progenitor cells into presumptive RPE cells expressing Mitf. Otx2 may act as a competence factor that allows RPE specification in concert with additional RPE-promoting factors such as β-catenin.
PMCID: PMC3066625  PMID: 20463321
25.  Expression of the G protein gamma T1 subunit during zebrafish development 
Gene expression patterns : GEP  2007;7(5):574-583.
Here, we report the identification and expression analysis of the zebrafish G protein gamma T1 subunit gene (gngT1) during development. Similar to its human and mouse homologs, we confirm zebrafish gngT1 is expressed in the developing retina, where its transcription overlaps with the photoreceptor cell-specific marker, rhodopsin (rho). Surprisingly, we also show zebrafish gngT1 is expressed in the dorsal diencephalon, where its transcription overlaps with the pineal specific markers, arylalkylamine N-acetyltransferase-2 (annat-2) and extra-ocular rhodopsin (exorh). Analysis of the proximal promoter sequence of the zebrafish gngT1 gene identifies several conserved binding sites for the cone-rod homeobox/orthodenticle (Crx/Otx) homeodomain family of transcription factors. Using a morpholino antisense approach in zebrafish, we show that targeted knockdown of otx5 potently suppresses gngT1 expression in the pineal gland, whereas knockdown of crx markedly reduces gngT1 expression in the retina. Taken together, these data indicate that pineal- and retinal-specific expression of the gngT1 gene are controlled by different transcription factors and exogenous signals.
PMCID: PMC2754307  PMID: 17306630
Zebrafish; G protein; gngT1; Signal transduction; Rhodopsin; Exo-rhodopsin; Pineal gland; Retina; Photoreceptor cells

Results 1-25 (1030331)