Precise regulation of gene expression during biological processes, including development, is often achieved by combinatorial action of multiple transcription factors. The mechanisms by which these factors collaborate are largely not known. We have shown previously that Isl1, a Lim-Homeodomain transcription factor, and Pou4f2, a class IV POU domain transcription factor, co-regulate a set of genes required for retinal ganglion cell (RGC) differentiation. Here we further explore how these two factors interact to precisely regulate gene expression during RGC development. By GST pulldown assays, co-immunoprecipitation, and electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we show that Isl1 and Pou4f2 form a complex in vitro and in vivo, and identify the domains within these two proteins that are responsible for this interaction. By luciferase assay, in situ hybridization, and RNA-seq, we further demonstrate that the two factors contribute quantitatively to gene expression in the developing RGCs. Although each factor alone can activate gene expression, both factors are required to achieve optimal expression levels. Finally, we discover that Isl1 and Pou4f2 can interact with other POU and Lim-Homeodomain factors respectively, indicating the interactions between these two classes of transcription factors are prevalent in development and other biological processes.
Horizontal cells are interneurons that synapse with photoreceptors in the outer retina. Their genesis during development is subject to regulation by transcription factors in a hierarchical manner. Previously, we showed that Onecut 1 (Oc1), an atypical homeodomain transcription factor, is expressed in developing horizontal cells (HCs) and retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in the mouse retina. Herein, by knocking out Oc1 specifically in the developing retina, we show that the majority (∼80%) of HCs fail to form during early retinal development, implying that Oc1 is essential for HC genesis. However, no other retinal cell types, including RGCs, were affected in the Oc1 knock-out. Analysis of the genetic relationship between Oc1 and other transcription factor genes required for HC development revealed that Oc1 functions downstream of FoxN4, in parallel with Ptf1a, but upstream of Lim1 and Prox1. By in utero electroporation, we found that Oc1 and Ptf1a together are not only essential, but also sufficient for determination of HC fate. In addition, the synaptic connections in the outer plexiform layer are defective in Oc1-null mice, and photoreceptors undergo age-dependent degeneration, indicating that HCs are not only an integral part of the retinal circuitry, but also are essential for the survival of photoreceptors. In sum, these results demonstrate that Oc1 is a critical determinant of HC fate, and reveal that HCs are essential for photoreceptor viability, retinal integrity, and normal visual function.
Our current study focuses on the expression of two members of the onecut transcription factor family, One-cut1 (Oc1) and Onecut2 (Oc2), in the developing mouse retina. By immunofluorescence staining, we found that Oc1 and Oc2 had very similar expression patterns throughout retinal development. Both factors started to be expressed in the retina at around embryonic day (E) 11.5. At early stages (E11.5 and E12.5), they were expressed in both the neuroblast layer (NBL) and ganglion cell layer (GCL). As development progressed (from E14.5 to postnatal day [P] 0), expression diminished in the retinal progenitor cells and became more restricted to the GCL. By P5, Oc1 and Oc2 were expressed at very low levels in the GCL. By co-labeling with transcription factors known to be involved in retinal ganglion cell (RGC) development, we found that Oc1 and Oc2 had extensive overlap with Math5 in the NBL, and that they completely overlapped with Pou4f2 and Isl1 in the GCL, but only partially in the NBL. Co-labeling of Oc1 with cell cycle markers confirmed that Oc1 was expressed in both proliferating retinal progenitors and postmitotic retinal cells. In addition, we demonstrated that expression of Oc1 and Oc2 did not require Math5, Isl1, or Pou4f2. Thus, Oc1 and Oc2 may regulate the formation of RGCs in a pathway independent of Math5, Pou4f2, and Isl1. Furthermore, we showed that Oc1 and Oc2 were expressed in both developing and mature horizontal cells (HCs). Therefore the two factors may also function in the genesis and maintenance of HCs. J. Comp. Neurol. 520:952–969, 2012.
retina; transcription factors; cell differentiation; retinal ganglion cells; horizontal cells; retinal development
Visual information is conveyed from the retina to the brain via 15–20 Retinal Ganglion Cell (RGC) types. The developmental mechanisms by which RGC types acquire their distinct molecular, morphological, physiological and circuit properties are essentially unknown, but may involve combinatorial transcriptional regulation. Brn3 transcription factors are expressed in RGCs from early developmental stages, and are restricted in adults to distinct, partially overlapping populations of RGC types. Previously, we described cell autonomous effects of Brn3b (Pou4f2) and Brn3a (Pou4f1) on RGC axon and dendrites development.
Methods and Findings
We now have investigated genetic interactions between Brn3 transcription factors with respect to RGC development, by crossing conventional knock-out alleles of each Brn3 gene with conditional knock-in reporter alleles of a second Brn3 gene, and analyzing the effects of single or double Brn3 knockouts on RGC survival and morphology. We find that Brn3b loss results in axon defects and dendritic arbor area and lamination defects in Brn3a positive RGCs, and selectively affects survival and morphology of specific Brn3c (Pou4f3) positive RGC types. Brn3a and Brn3b interact synergistically to control RGC numbers. Melanopsin positive ipRGCs are resistant to combined Brn3 loss but are under the transcriptional control of Isl1, expanding the combinatorial code of RGC specification.
Taken together these results complete our knowledge on the mechanisms of transcriptional control of RGC type specification. They demonstrate that Brn3b is required for the correct development of more RGC cell types than suggested by its expression pattern in the adult, but that several cell types, including some Brn3a, Brn3c or Melanopsin positive RGCs are Brn3b independent.
Retinal vascular development is a complex process that is not yet fully understood. The majority of research in this area has focused on astrocytes and the template they form in the inner retina, which precedes endothelial cells in the mouse retina. In humans and dogs, however, astrocyte migration follows behind development of blood vessels, suggesting that other cell types may guide this process. One such cell type is the ganglion cell, which differentiates before blood vessel formation and lies adjacent to the primary retinal vascular plexus. The present study investigated the potential role played by ganglion cells in vascular development using Math5−/− mice. It has previously been reported that Math5 regulates the differentiation of ganglion cells and Math5−/− mice have a 95% reduction in these cells. The development of blood vessels and glia was investigated using Griffonia simplicifolia isolectin B4 labeling and GFAP immunohistochemistry, respectively. JB-4 analysis demonstrated that the hyaloid vessels arose from choriovitreal vessels adjacent to the optic nerve area. As previously reported, Math5−/− mice had a rudimentary optic nerve. The primary retinal vessels did not develop post-natally in the Math5−/− mice, however, branches of the hyaloid vasculature eventually dove into the retina and formed the inner retinal capillary networks. An astrocyte template only formed in some areas of the Math5−/− retina. In addition, GFAP+ Müller cells were seen throughout the retina that had long processes wrapped around the hyaloid vessels. Transmission electron microscopy confirmed Müller cell abnormalities and revealed disruptions in the inner limiting membrane. The present data demonstrates that the loss of ganglion cells in the Math5−/− mice is associated with a lack of retinal vascular development.
retina; angiogenesis; persistent fetal vasculature; Math5; ganglion cells
Retina; Retinal development; Retinal ganglion cells; Transcription factors; Cell fate specification; bHLH factors; Glaucoma
Although immunological detection of proteins is used extensively in retinal development, studies are often impeded because antibodies against crucial proteins cannot be generated or are not readily available. Here, we overcome these limitations by constructing genetically engineered alleles for Math5 and Pou4f2, two genes required for retinal ganglion cell (RGC) development. Sequences encoding a peptide epitope from haemagglutinin (HA) were added to Math5 or Pou4f2 in frame to generate Math5HA and Pou4f2HA alleles. We demonstrate that the tagged alleles recapitulated the wild-type expression patterns of the two genes, and that the tags did not interfere with the function of the cognate proteins. In addition, by co-staining, we found that Math5 and Pou4f2 were transiently co-expressed in newly-born RGCs, unequivocally demonstrating that Pou4f2 is immediately downstream of Math5 in RGC formation. The epitope-tagged alleles provide new and useful tools for analyzing gene regulatory networks underlying RGC development.
Math5; Pou4f2; tagged knock-in alleles; retinal ganglion cell development; gene regulatory networks
Despite the magnitude of the problem, no effective treatments exist to prevent retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death and optic nerve degeneration from occurring in diseases affecting the human eye. Animal models currently available for developing treatment strategies suffer from cumbersome procedures required to induce RGC death or rely on mutations that induce defects in developing retinas rather than in mature retinas of adults. Our objective was to develop a robust genetically engineered adult mouse model for RGC loss and optic nerve degeneration based on genetic ablation. To achieve this, we took advantage of Pou4f2 (Brn3b), a gene activated immediately as RGCs begin to differentiate and expressed throughout life. We generated adult mice whose genomes harbored a conditional Pou4f2 allele containing a floxed-lacZ-stop-diphtheria toxin A cassette and a CAGG-Cre-ER™ transgene. In this bigenic model, Cre recombinase is fused to a modified estrogen nuclear receptor in which the estrogen-binding domain binds preferentially to the estrogen agonist tamoxifen rather than to endogenous estradiol. Upon binding to the estrogen-binding domain, tamoxifen derepresses Cre recombinase, leading to the efficient genomic deletion of the floxed lacZ-stop DNA sequence and expression of diphtheria toxin A. Tamoxifen administered to adult mice at different ages by intraperitoneal injection led to rapid RGC loss, reactive gliosis, progressive degradation of the optic nerve over a period of several months, and visual impairment. Perhaps more reflective of human disease, partial loss of RGCs was achieved by modulating the tamoxifen treatment. Especially relevant for RGC death and optic nerve degeneration in human retinal pathologies, RGC-ablated retinas maintained their structural integrity, and other retinal neurons and their connections in the inner and outer plexiform layers appeared unaffected by RGC ablation. These events are hallmarks of progressive optic nerve degeneration observed in human retinal pathologies and demonstrate the validity of this model for use in developing stem cell therapies for replacing dead RGCs with healthy ones.
Retinal ganglion cells; optic nerve degeneration; Pou4f2/Brn3b; diphtheria toxin A; genetic ablation; retinal disease mouse model
Retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) are programmed early in development to acquire the competence for specifying the seven retinal cell types. Acquiring competence is a complex spatiotemporal process that is still only vaguely understood. Here, our objective was to more fully understand the mechanisms by which RPCs become competent for specifying a retinal ganglion cell (RGC) fate. RGCs are the first retinal cell type to differentiate and their abnormal development leads to apoptosis and optic nerve degeneration. Previous work demonstrated that the paired domain factor Pax6 and the bHLH factor Atoh7 are required for RPCs to specify RGCs. RGC commitment is marked by the expression of the Pou domain factor Pou4f2 and the Lim domain factor Isl1. We show that three RPC subpopulations can specify RGCs: Atoh7-expressing RPCs, Neurod1-expressing RPCs, and Atoh7-Neurod1-expressing RPCs. All three RPC subpopulations were highly interspersed throughout retinal development, although each subpopulation maintained a distinct temporal pattern. Most, but not all, RPCs from each subpopulation were postmitotic. Atoh7-Neurod1 double knockout mice were generated and double mutant retinas revealed an unexpected role for Neurod1 in specifying RGC fate. We conclude that RPCs have a complex regulatory gene expression program in which they acquire competence using highly integrated mechanisms.
Retinal development; retinal progenitor cells; retinal ganglion cells; cell cycle; homeobox factor Pax6; proneural bHLH factors Atoh7; Neurod1
During vertebrate retinal development, the seven retinal cell types differentiate sequentially from a single population of retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) and organize themselves into a distinct laminar structure. The purpose of this study was to determine whether β-catenin, which functions both as a nuclear effector for the canonical Wnt signaling pathway and as a regulator of cell adhesion, is required for retinal neurogenesis or lamination. We used the Cre-loxP system to either eliminate β-catenin or to express a constitutively active form during retinal neurogenesis. Eliminating β-catenin did not affect cell differentiation, but did result in the loss of the radial arrangement of RPCs and caused abnormal migration of differentiated neurons. As a result, the laminar structure was massively disrupted in β-catenin-null retinas, although all retinal cell types still formed. In contrast to other neural tissues, eliminating β-catenin did not significantly reduce the proliferation rate of RPCs; likewise, activating β-catenin ectopically in RPCs did not result in overproliferation, but loss of neural retinal identity. These results indicate that β-catenin is essential during retinal neurogenesis as a regulator of cell adhesion but not as a nuclear effector of the canonical Wnt signaling pathway. The results further imply that retinal lamination and retinal cell differentiation are genetically separable processes.
retina; retinal development; β-catenin; retinal lamination; cell adhsion; cell differentiation
Retinal development occurs in mice between embryonic day E11.5 and post-natal day P8 as uncommitted neuroblasts assume retinal cell fates. The genetic pathways regulating retinal development are being identified but little is understood about the global networks that link these pathways together or the complexity of the expressed gene set required to form the retina. At E14.5, the retina contains mostly uncommitted neuroblasts and newly differentiated neurons. Here we report a sequence analysis of an E14.5 retinal cDNA library. To date, we have archived 15 268 ESTs and have annotated 9035, which represent 5288 genes. The fraction of singly occurring ESTs as a function of total EST accrual suggests that the total number of expressed genes in the library could approach 27 000. The 9035 ESTs were categorized by their known or putative functions. Representation of the genes involved in eye development was significantly higher in the retinal clone set compared with the NIA mouse 15K cDNA clone set. Screening with a microarray containing 864 cDNA clones using wild-type and brn-3b (–/–) retinal cDNA probes revealed a potential regulatory linkage between the transcription factor Brn-3b and expression of GAP-43, a protein associated with axon growth. The retinal EST database will be a valuable platform for gene expression profiling and a new source for gene discovery.