The development and maintenance of retinal vasculature require a precise balance between pro-angiogenic and anti-angiogenic factors. However, mechanisms underlying normal homeostasis of retinal vasculature and pathological changes of disrupted retinal vessel development are not fully understood. Recent studies of the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 (LRP5) and the very low-density lipoprotein receptor (VLDLR) mutant mice indicate that LRP5 mediates a pro-angiogenic signal while VLDLR mediates an anti-angiogenic signal in retinal vasculature. Mice with a loss of LRP5 display underdeveloped intraretinal vasculature associated with endothelial cell (EC) clustering and failed EC migration into deep retinal layers. In contrast, VLDLR knockout mice show overgrown intraretinal vasculature and subretinal neovascularization. To understand the mechanisms for the opposite retinal vascular abnormalities between LRP5 and VLDLR mutant mice and to test how a loss of LRP5 perturbs subretinal neovascularization caused by a loss of VLDLR, we have generated and characterized the retinal vasculature in LRP5/VLDLR double knockout (DKO) mice. Our data show that DKO mice develop substantial EC clustering without subretinal neovascularization. The absence of subretinal neovascularization in DKO mice is associated with inhibited migration of ECs into the photoreceptor cell layer. In addition, the transcription level of Slc38a5, which encodes a Müller cell specific glutamine transporter, is significantly reduced in DKO mice, similar to previously reported changes in LRP5 single knockout mice. Thus, LRP5 signaling is a prerequisite for neovascularization in VLDLR knockout mice. LRP5 may be an effective target for inhibiting intraretinal neovascularization.
The ubiquitin–proteasome pathway (UPP) is an important protein quality control mechanism for selective degradation of abnormal proteins. The objective of this study was to test the hypothesis that enhancement of the UPP capacity could attenuate the accumulation and aggregation of misfolded proteins using V76D-γD-crystallin as a model substrate.
Wild type (wt) and V76D mutant γD-crystallin were fused to red fluorescence protein (RFP) and expressed in human lens epithelial cells. The cellular distribution of the expressed proteins was compared by fluorescence microscopy. The solubility of wt- and V76D-γD-crystallin was determined by cellular fractionation and Western blotting. Wt-γD-RFP and V76D-γD-RFP were also cotransfected along with a ubiquitin ligase (CHIP) or a ubiquitin-conjugating enzyme (Ubc5) into cells. Levels of wt- and V76D-γD-crystallin, the percentage of transfected cells with aggregates, and aggregate size were quantified and compared among different groups.
Wt-γD-crystallin was evenly distributed in cells, whereas V76D-γD-crystallin formed intracellular aggregates. Eighty percent of wt-γD-crystallin was detected in the soluble fraction, whereas only 7% of V76D-γD-crystallin was soluble. CHIP or Ubc5 coexpression reduced the protein level of V76D-γD and concomitantly its aggregation in transfected cells; these effects could be attenuated by proteasome inhibitor. Mutant CHIP with defect TPR (tetratricopeptide repeat) or U-box domain failed to reduce levels of V76D-γD-crystallin.
Enhancing ubiquitin conjugation activity reduces accumulation and aggregation of V76D-γD-crystallin by promoting its degradation. Upregulation of ubiquitin-conjugating activity could be an effective strategy to maintain lens transparency by eliminating other forms of misfolded proteins.
Enhancement of ubiquitin conjugation activity suppresses the aggregation of misfolded lens proteins in living cells by promoting their degradation.
The mouse semi-dominant Nm2249 mutation displays variable cataracts in heterozygous mice and smaller lenses with severe cataracts in homozygous mice. This mutation is caused by a Gja8R205G point mutation in the second extracellular loop of the Cx50 (or α8 connexin) protein. Immunohistological data reveal that Cx50-R205G mutant proteins and endogenous wild-type Cx46 (or α3 connexin) proteins form diffuse tiny spots rather than typical punctate signals of normal gap junctions in the lens. The level of phosphorylated Cx46 proteins is decreased in Gja8R205G/R205G mutant lenses. Genetic analysis reveals that the Cx50-R205G mutation needs the presence of wild-type Cx46 to disrupt lens peripheral fibers and epithelial cells. Electrophysiological data in Xenopus oocytes reveal that Cx50-R205G mutant proteins block channel function of gap junctions composed of wild-type Cx50, but only affect the gating of wild-type Cx46 channels. Both genetic and electrophysiological results suggest that Cx50-R205G mutant proteins alone are unable to form functional channels. These findings imply that the Gja8R205G mutation differentially impairs the functions of Cx50 and Cx46 to cause cataracts, small lenses and microphthalmia. The Gja8R205G mutation occurs at the same conserved residue as the human GJA8R198W mutation. This work provides molecular insights to understand the cataract and microphthalmia/microcornea phenotype caused by Gja8 mutations in mice and humans.
The study further demonstrates the essential role of Vldlr in the regulation of intraretinal angiogenesis in mice and suggests that it probably mediates an antiangiogenic signal to prevent the migration of vascular endothelial cells into the photoreceptor cell layer.
To identify and characterize the r26 mouse line, which displays depigmented patches in the retina, and to determine the causative gene mutation and study the underlying mechanism.
Fundus examination, fluorescein angiography, histology, and immunostaining were used to determine the retinal phenotypes. Genome-wide linkage analysis, DNA sequencing, and an allelic test were used to identify the causative gene mutation. Wild-type and mutant gene products were examined by Western blot and transient transfection.
Homozygous r26/r26 mice displayed depigmented patches in the fundus that overlapped the hyperfluorescent spots in the angiogram. Histology showed overgrown retinal vessels in the subretinal space. Immunostaining verified the presence of endothelial cells in the photoreceptor layer. Chromosome mapping and DNA sequencing revealed a point mutation, c.2239C>T, in the very-low-density lipoprotein receptor (Vldlr) gene. An allelic test in Vldlr knockout (−/−) mice confirmed that r26/− mice display a phenotype similar to that of r26/r26 mice. The Vldlr protein was predominantly localized at the plasma membrane of transfected cells, whereas the truncated Vldlr was diffusely expressed in the cell cytosol. The r26 truncated Vldlr was undetectable in mutant retinas by Western blot.
The r26 is a recessive mutant caused by a missense mutation in the Vldlr gene. This results in a truncated Vldlr protein that lacks the C-terminal 127 amino acid residues including the single transmembrane domain and fails to localize at the plasma membrane. Thus, the r26 is a loss-of-function Vldlr mutation. Vldlr on the cell surface probably mediates an antiangiogenic signal to prevent retinal endothelial cells from migrating into the photoreceptor cell layer.
Recent genetic studies show that the Eph/ephrin bidirectional signaling pathway is associated with both congenital and age-related cataracts in mice and humans. We have investigated the molecular mechanisms of cataractogenesis and the roles of ephrin-A5 and EphA2 in the lens. Ephrin-A5 knockout (-/-) mice often display anterior polar cataracts while EphA2(-/-) lenses show very mild cortical or nuclear cataracts at weaning age. The anterior polar cataract of ephrin-A5(-/-) lenses is correlated with multilayers of aberrant cells that express alpha smooth muscle actin, a marker for mesenchymal cells. Only select fiber cells are altered in ephrin-A5(-/-) lenses. Moreover, the disruption of membrane-associated β-catenin and E-cadherin junctions is observed in ephrin-A5(-/-) lens central epithelial cells. In contrast, EphA2(-/-) lenses display normal monolayer epithelium while disorganization is apparent in all lens fiber cells. Immunostaining of ephrin-A5 proteins, highly expressed in lens epithelial cells, were not colocalized with EphA2 proteins, mainly expressed in lens fiber cells. Besides the previously reported function of ephrin-A5 in lens fiber cells, this work suggests that ephrin-A5 regulates β-catenin signaling and E-cadherin to prevent lens anterior epithelial cells from undergoing the epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition while EphA2 is essential for controlling the organization of lens fiber cells through an unknown mechanism. Ephrin-A5 and EphA2 likely interacting with other members of Eph/ephrin family to play diverse functions in lens epithelial cells and/or fiber cells.
The aim of this study was to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that lead to a dominant nuclear cataract in a mouse harboring the Y118D mutation in the αA-crystallin gene.
The physicochemical properties of α-crystallin obtained from mouse lenses with the Y118D mutation as well as a recombinant Y118D αA-crystallin were studied using gel filtration, two-dimensional (2D) gel electrophoresis, multi-angle light scattering, circular dichroism, fluorescence, and chaperone activities.
Both native α-crystallin from mutant lens and recombinant αA-Y118D displayed higher molecular mass distribution than the wild-type. Circular dichroism spectra indicated changes in the secondary structures of αA-Y118D. The αA-Y118D protein prevented nonspecific protein aggregation more effectively than wild-type αA-crystallin. The gel filtration and 2D gel electrophoresis analysis showed a significant reduction of Y118D mutant protein in comparison with wild-type αA protein of heterozygous mutant lenses. Quantitative RT-PCR results confirmed a decrease in αA and αB transcripts in the homozygous mutant α A(Y118D/Y118D) lenses.
The αA-Y118D mutant protein itself displays an increased chaperone-like activity. However, the dominant nuclear cataract is associated with a significant decrease in the amount of αA-crystallin, leading to a reduction in total chaperone capacity needed for maintaining lens transparency.
Cataracts, named for any opacity in the ocular lens, remain the leading cause of vision loss in the world. Non-surgical methods for cataract prevention are still elusive. We have genetically tested whether enhanced lens gap junction communication, provided by increased α3 connexin (Cx46) proteins expressed from α8(Kiα3) knock-in alleles in Gja8tm1(Gja3)Tww mice, could prevent nuclear cataracts caused by the γB-crystallin S11R mutation in CrygbS11R/S11R mice. Remarkably, homozygous knock-in α8(Kiα3/Kiα3) mice fully prevented nuclear cataracts, while single knock-in α8(Kiα3/−) allele mice showed variable suppression of nuclear opacities in CrygbS11R/S11R mutant mice. Cataract prevention was correlated with the suppression of many pathological processes, including crystallin degradation and fiber cell degeneration, as well as preservation of normal calcium levels and stable actin filaments in the lens. This work demonstrates that enhanced intercellular gap junction communication can effectively prevent or delay nuclear cataract formation and suggests that small metabolites transported through gap junction channels protect the stability of crystallin proteins and the cytoskeletal structures in the lens core. Thus, the use of an array of small molecules to promote lens homeostasis may become a feasible non-surgical approach for nuclear cataract prevention in the future.
A point mutation of the rhodopsin gene results in a mutant Rho-C185R protein and causes dominant retinal degeneration in mice.
To identify a new mouse mutation developing early-onset dominant retinal degeneration, to determine the causative gene mutation, and to investigate the underlying mechanism.
Retinal phenotype was examined by indirect ophthalmoscopy, histology, transmission electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, Western blot analysis, and electroretinography. Causative gene mutation was determined by genomewide linkage analysis and DNA sequencing. Structural modeling was used to predict the impact of the mutation on protein structure.
An ENU-mutagenized mouse line (R3), displaying attenuated retinal vessels and pigmented patches, was identified by fundus examination. Homozygous R3/R3 mice lost photoreceptors rapidly, leaving only a single row of photoreceptor nuclei at postnatal day 18. The a- and b-waves of ERG were flat in R3/R3 mice, whereas heterozygous R3/+ mice showed reduced amplitude of a- and b-waves. The R3/+ mice had a slower rate of photoreceptor cell loss than compound heterozygous R3/− mice with a null mutant allele. The R3 mutation was mapped and verified to be a rhodopsin point mutation, a c.553T>C for a p.C185R substitution. The side chain of Arg185 impacted on the extracellular loop of the protein. Mutant rhodopsin-C185R protein accumulated in the photoreceptor inner segments, cellular bodies, or both.
Rhodopsin C185R mutation leads to severe retinal degeneration in R3 mutant mice. A dosage-dependent accumulation of misfolded mutant proteins likely triggers or stimulates the death of rod photoreceptors. The presence of a wild-type rhodopsin allele can delay the loss of photoreceptor cells in R3/+ mice.
The low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 (LRP5) plays an important role in the development of retinal vasculature. LRP5 loss-of-function mutations cause incomplete development of retinal vessel network in humans as well as in mice. To understand the underlying mechanism for how LRP5 mutations lead to retinal vascular abnormalities, we have determined the retinal cell types that express LRP5 and investigated specific molecular and cellular functions that may be regulated by LRP5 signaling in the retina.
Methods and Findings
We characterized the development of retinal vasculature in LRP5 mutant mice using specific retinal cell makers and a GFP transgene expressed in retinal endothelial cells. Our data revealed that retinal vascular endothelial cells predominantly formed cell clusters in the inner-plexiform layer of LRP5 mutant retina rather than sprouting out or migrating into deeper layers to form normal vascular network in the retina. The IRES-β-galactosidase (LacZ) report gene under the control of the endogenous LRP5 promoter was highly expressed in Müller cells and was also weakly detected in endothelial cells of the retinal surface vasculature. Moreover, the LRP5 mutant mice had a reduction of a Müller cell-specific glutamine transporter, Slc38a5, and showed a decrease in b-wave amplitude of electroretinogram.
LRP5 is not only essential for vascular endothelial cells to sprout, migrate and/or anastomose in the deeper plexus during retinal vasculature development but is also important for the functions of Müller cells and retinal interneurons. Müller cells may utilize LRP5-mediated signaling pathway to regulate vascular development in deeper layers and to maintain the function of retinal interneurons.
Mutations in Connexin50 (Cx50) cause cataracts in both humans and mice. The mechanism(s) behind how mutated connexins lead to a variety of cataracts have yet to be fully elucidated. Here, we tested whether the cataract inducing Cx50-S50P mutant interacts with wild-type Connexin43 (Cx43) to form mixed channels with attenuated function. Using dual whole-cell voltage clamp, immunofluorescent microscopy and in situ dye transfer analysis we identified a unique interaction between the mutant subunit and wild-type Cx43. In paired Xenopus oocytes, co-expression of Cx50-S50P with Cx43 reduced electrical coupling ≥90%, without a reduction in protein expression. In transfected cells, Cx50-S50P did not target to cell-cell interfaces by itself, but co-expression of Cx50-S50P with Cx43 resulted in its localization at areas of cell-cell contact. We used Cx43 conditional knockout, Cx50 knockout and Cx50-S50P mutant mice to examine this interaction in vivo. Mice expressing both Cx43 and Cx50-S50P in the lens epithelium revealed a unique expression pattern for Cx43 and a reduction in Cx43 protein. In situ dye transfer experiments showed that the Cx50-S50P mutant, but not the Cx50, or Cx43 conditional knockout, greatly inhibited epithelial cell gap junctional communication in a manner similar to a double knockout of Cx43 and Cx50. The inhibitory affects of Cx50-S50P lead to diminished electrical coupling in vitro, as well as a discernable reduction in epithelial cell dye permeation. These data suggest that dominant inhibition of Cx43 mediated epithelial cell coupling may play a role in the lens pathophysiology caused by the Cx50-S50P mutation.
cataract; connexin; mutation; lens; gap junction; intercellular communication
Papillorenal syndrome (PRS, also known as renal-coloboma syndrome) is an autosomal dominant disease characterized by potentially-blinding congenital optic nerve excavation and congenital kidney abnormalities. Many patients with PRS have mutations in the paired box transcription factor gene, PAX2. Although most mutations in PAX2 are predicted to result in complete loss of one allele's function, three missense mutations have been reported, raising the possibility that more subtle alterations in PAX2 function may be disease-causing. To date, the molecular behaviors of these mutations have not been explored. We describe a novel mouse model of PRS due to a missense mutation in a highly-conserved threonine residue in the paired domain of Pax2 (p.T74A) that recapitulates the ocular and kidney findings of patients. This mutation is in the Pax2 paired domain at the same location as two human missense mutations. We show that all three missense mutations disrupt potentially critical hydrogen bonds in atomic models and result in reduced Pax2 transactivation, but do not affect nuclear localization, steady state mRNA levels, or the ability of Pax2 to bind its DNA consensus sequence. Moreover, these mutations show reduced steady-state levels of Pax2 protein in vitro and (for p.T74A) in vivo, likely by reducing protein stability. These results suggest that hypomorphic alleles of PAX2/Pax2 can lead to significant disease in humans and mice.
Congenital ocular malformations affecting the optic nerve are an important cause of childhood blindness. The papillorenal syndrome (PRS) is an autosomal dominant disorder that causes congenital optic nerve and kidney abnormalities, which may result in legal blindness and renal failure, respectively. Many cases of PRS are caused by mutations in the paired-box transcription factor PAX2. In this paper, we describe a novel mouse model of this human disease caused by a missense mutation in the Pax2 gene at the same position of one of the few disease-causing missense mutations in humans. We characterize the ocular and non-ocular phenotypes of this mouse and model the effect that murine and human Pax2/PAX2 mutations have on protein structure. We also experimentally test the effect these missense mutations have on protein localization, transactivation, and DNA binding, concluding that all three reduce steady-state levels of protein in vitro and (in p.T74A) in vivo by reducing protein stability. This work will help us better understand the pathophysiology of PRS and to dissect the molecular interactions important in normal PAX2 function.
Age-related cataract is a major cause of blindness worldwide, and cortical cataract is the second most prevalent type of age-related cataract. Although a significant fraction of age-related cataract is heritable, the genetic basis remains to be elucidated. We report that homozygous deletion of Epha2 in two independent strains of mice developed progressive cortical cataract. Retroillumination revealed development of cortical vacuoles at one month of age; visible cataract appeared around three months, which progressed to mature cataract by six months. EPHA2 protein expression in the lens is spatially and temporally regulated. It is low in anterior epithelial cells, upregulated as the cells enter differentiation at the equator, strongly expressed in the cortical fiber cells, but absent in the nuclei. Deletion of Epha2 caused a significant increase in the expression of HSP25 (murine homologue of human HSP27) before the onset of cataract. The overexpressed HSP25 was in an underphosphorylated form, indicating excessive cellular stress and protein misfolding. The orthologous human EPHA2 gene on chromosome 1p36 was tested in three independent worldwide Caucasian populations for allelic association with cortical cataract. Common variants in EPHA2 were found that showed significant association with cortical cataract, and rs6678616 was the most significant in meta-analyses. In addition, we sequenced exons of EPHA2 in linked families and identified a new missense mutation, Arg721Gln, in the protein kinase domain that significantly alters EPHA2 functions in cellular and biochemical assays. Thus, converging evidence from humans and mice suggests that EPHA2 is important in maintaining lens clarity with age.
Cataract is the leading cause of blindness. Cataract may form at any age, but the peak incidence is bimodal—in the perinatal period or later than 50 years of age. The early onset forms follow Mendelian inheritance patterns and are rare. Age-related cataract accounts for 18 million cases of blindness and 59 million cases of reduced vision worldwide. Among three types of age-related cataract, cortical cataract is known to be highly heritable, although few genes have been linked to its etiology. We report here that EPHA2 is associated with cortical cataract. EPHA2 is expressed in mouse and human cortical lens fiber cells, and homozygous deletion of Epha2 in two independent strains of mice led to development of cataract that progressed with age. Common and rare variants including a missense mutation in the EPHA2 gene were associated for cortical cataract in three different Caucasian populations. Our study identified EPHA2 as a gene for human age-related cataract and established Epha2 knockout mice as a model for progressive cortical cataract.
Both connexins and signal transduction pathways have been independently shown to play critical roles in lens homeostasis, but little is known about potential cooperation between these two intercellular communication systems. To investigate whether growth factor signaling and gap junctional communication interact during the development of lens homeostasis, we examined the effect of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) signaling on coupling mediated by specific lens connexins by using a combination of in vitro and in vivo assays. Activation of MAPK signaling pathways significantly increased coupling provided by Cx50, but not Cx46, in paired Xenopus laevis oocytes in vitro, as well as between freshly isolated lens cells in vivo. Constitutively active MAPK signaling caused macrophthalmia, cataract, glucose accumulation, vacuole formation in differentiating fibers, and lens rupture in vivo. The specific removal or replacement of Cx50, but not Cx46, ameliorated all five pathological conditions in transgenic mice. These results indicate that MAPK signaling specifically modulates coupling mediated by Cx50 and that gap junctional communication and signal transduction pathways may interact in osmotic regulation during postnatal fiber development.
Lens transparency and high refractive index presumably depend on the appropriate arrangement and distribution of lens proteins among lens fiber cells. Intercellular gap junction channels formed by α3 and α8 connexins are known to transport small molecules, ions and water, but not proteins, in the lens. Mosaic expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the lens is a useful marker for monitoring macromolecule distribution between fiber cells and for constructing 3-dimensional images of living lens cells. In α3(−/−) α8(−/−) double knockout (DKO) lenses, three-dimensional images of GFP-positive cells demonstrate the changes of epithelial cell surfaces and insufficient elongation of inner fiber cells. Uniform distribution of GFP between inner lens fiber cells is observed in both wild-type and α3(−/−) lenses. In contrast, uniform GFP distribution is slightly delayed in α8(−/−) lenses and is abolished in DKO lenses. Without endogenous wild-type α3 and α8 connexins, knock-in α3 connexin (expressed under the α8 gene promoter) restores the uniform distribution of GFP protein in the lens. Thus, the presence of either α3 or α8 connexins seems sufficient to support the uniform distribution of GFP between differentiated lens fiber cells. Although the mechanism that drives GFP transport between fiber cells remains unknown, this work reveals that gap junction communication plays a novel role in the regulation of intercellular protein distribution in the lens.
Connexin; Gap junction; Cell-cell communication
We have identified a mouse recessive mutation that leads to attenuated and hyperpermeable retinal vessels, recapitulating some pathological features of familial exudative vitreoretinopathy (FEVR) in human patients. DNA sequencing reveals a single nucleotide insertion in the gene encoding the low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 (LRP5), causing a frame shift and resulting in the replacement of the C-terminal 39 amino acid residues by 20 new amino acids. This change eliminates the last three PPP(S/T)P repeats in the LRP5 cytoplasmic domain that are important for mediating Wnt/β-catenin signaling. Thus, mutant LRP5 protein is probably unable to mediate its downstream signaling. Immunostaining and three-dimensional reconstructions of retinal vasculature confirm attenuated retinal vessels. Ultrastructural data further reveal that some capillaries lack lumen structure in the mutant retina. We have also verified that LRP5 null mice develop similar alterations in the retinal vasculature. This study provides direct evidence that LRP5 is essential for the development of retinal vasculature, and suggests a novel role played by LRP5 in capillary maturation. LRP5 mutant mice can be a useful model to explore the clinical manifestations of FEVR.
There is a good deal of evidence that the lens generates an internal micro circulatory system, which brings metabolites, like glucose, and antioxidants, like ascorbate, into the lens along the extracellular spaces between cells. Calcium also ought to be carried into the lens by this system. If so, the only path for Ca2+ to get out of the lens is to move down its electrochemical gradient into fiber cells, and then move by electrodiffusion from cell to cell through gap junctions to surface cells, where Ca-ATPase activity and Na/Ca exchange can transport it back into the aqueous or vitreous humors. The purpose of the present study was to test this calcium circulation hypothesis by studying calcium homeostasis in connexin (Cx46) knockout and (Cx46 for Cx50) knockin mouse lenses, which have different degrees of gap junction coupling. To measure intracellular calcium, FURA2 was injected into fiber cells, and the gradient in calcium concentration from center to surface was mapped in each type of lens. In wild-type lenses the coupling conductance of the mature fibers was ∼0.5 S/cm2 of cell to cell contact, and the best fit to the calcium concentration data varied from 700 nM in the center to 300 nM at the surface. In the knockin lenses, the coupling conductance was ∼1.0 S/cm2 and calcium varied from ∼500 nM at the center to 300 nM at the surface. Thus, when the coupling conductance doubled, the concentration gradient halved, as predicted by the model. In knockout lenses, the coupling conductance was zero, hence the efflux path was knocked out and calcium accumulated to ∼2 μM in central fibers. Knockout lenses also had a dense central cataract that extended from the center to about half the radius. Others have previously shown that this cataract involves activation of a calcium-dependent protease, Lp82. We can now expand on this finding to provide a hypothesis on each step that leads to cataract formation: knockout of Cx46 causes loss of coupling of mature fiber cells; the efflux path for calcium is therefore blocked; calcium accumulates in the central cells; at concentrations above ∼1 μM (from the center to about half way out of a 3-wk-old lens) Lp82 is activated; Lp82 cleaves cytoplasmic proteins (crystallins) in central cells; and the cleaved proteins aggregate and scatter light.
connexin knockout; connexin knockin; intracellular calcium; gap junctions; coupling conductance
Gap junctions are composed of proteins called connexins (Cx) and facilitate both ionic and biochemical modes of intercellular communication. In the lens, Cx46 and Cx50 provide the gap junctional coupling needed for homeostasis and growth. In mice, deletion of Cx46 produced severe cataracts, whereas knockout of Cx50 resulted in significantly reduced lens growth and milder cataracts. Genetic replacement of Cx50 with Cx46 by knockin rescued clarity but not growth. By mating knockin and knockout mice, we show that heterozygous replacement of Cx50 with Cx46 rescued growth but produced dominant cataracts that resulted from disruption of lens fiber morphology and crystallin precipitation. Impedance measurements revealed normal levels of ionic gap junctional coupling, whereas the passage of fluorescent dyes that mimic biochemical coupling was altered in heterozygous knockin lenses. In addition, double heterozygous knockout lenses retained normal growth and clarity, whereas knockover lenses, where native Cx46 was deleted and homozygously knocked into the Cx50 locus, displayed significantly deficient growth but maintained clarity. Together, these findings suggest that unique biochemical modes of gap junctional communication influence lens clarity and lens growth, and this biochemical coupling is modulated by the connexin composition of the gap junction channels.
knockin; knockover; connexin; lens; intercellular communication
Lens fiber cell gap junctions contain α3 (Cx46) and α8 (Cx50) connexins. To examine the roles of the two different connexins in lens physiology, we have genetically engineered mice lacking either α3 or α8 connexin. Intracellular impedance studies of these lenses were used to measure junctional conductance and its sensitivity to intracellular pH. In Gong et al. 1998, we described results from α3 connexin knockout lenses. Here, we present original data from α8 connexin knockout lenses and a comparison with the previous results. The lens has two functionally distinct domains of fiber cell coupling. In wild-type mouse lenses, the outer shell of differentiating fibers (see 1, DF) has an average coupling conductance per area of cell–cell contact of ∼1 S/cm2, which falls to near zero when the cytoplasm is acidified. In the inner core of mature fibers (see 1, MF), the average coupling conductance is ∼0.4 S/cm2, and is insensitive to acidification of the cytoplasm. Both connexin isoforms appear to contribute about equally in the DF since the coupling conductance for either heterozygous knockout (+/−) was ∼70% of normal and 30–40% of the normal for both −/− lenses. However, their contribution to the MF was different. About 50% of the normal coupling conductance was found in the MF of α3 +/− lenses. In contrast, the coupling of MF in the α8 +/− lenses was the same as normal. Moreover, no coupling was detected in the MF of α3 −/− lenses. Together, these results suggest that α3 connexin alone is responsible for coupling MF. The pH- sensitive gating of DF junctions was about the same in wild-type and α3 connexin −/− lenses. However, in α8 −/− lenses, the pure α3 connexin junctions did not gate closed in the response to acidification. Since α3 connexin contributes about half the coupling conductance in DF of wild-type lenses, and that conductance goes to zero when the cytoplasmic pH drops, it appears α8 connexin regulates the gating of α3 connexin. Both connexins are clearly important to lens physiology as lenses null for either connexin lose transparency. Gap junctions in the MF survive for the lifetime of the organism without protein turnover. It appears that α3 connexin provides the long-term communication in MF. Gap junctions in DF may be physiologically regulated since they are capable of gating when the cytoplasm is acidified. It appears α8 connexin is required for gating in DF.
pH gating; coupling conductance; α8 connexin Cx50; α3 connexin Cx46