Conditional knockout of Sprouty1 and Sprouty2 in the murine lens ectodermal precursors results in failure of lens vesicle detachment, persistent keratolenticular stalks, and premature initiation of lens fiber differentiation. These data indicate that Sprouty1 and Sprouty2, through negative modulation of ERKs, allow lens vesicle separation and are targets of fibroblast growth factor signaling in the lens during initiation of fiber differentiation.
The studies reported here were performed to analyze the roles of Sproutys (Sprys), downstream targets and negative feedback regulators of the fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling pathway, in lens and corneal differentiation.
Spry1 and -2 were conditionally deleted in the lens and corneal epithelial precursors using the Le-Cre transgene and floxed alleles of Spry1 and -2. Alterations in lens and corneal development were assessed by hematoxylin and eosin staining, in situ hybridization, and immunohistochemistry.
Spry1 and -2 were upregulated in the lens fibers at the onset of fiber differentiation. FGF signaling was both necessary and sufficient for induction of Spry1 and -2 in the lens fiber cells. Spry1 and -2 single- or double-null lenses failed to separate from the overlying ectoderm and showed persistent keratolenticular stalks. Apoptosis of stalk cells, normally seen during lens vesicle detachment from the ectoderm, was inhibited in Spry mutant lenses, with concomitant ERK activation. Prox1 and p57KIP2, normally upregulated at the onset of fiber differentiation were prematurely induced in the Spry mutant lens epithelial cells. However, terminal differentiation markers such as β- or γ-crystallin were not induced. Corneal epithelial precursors in Spry1 and -2 double mutants showed increased proliferation with elevated expression of Erm and DUSP6 and decreased expression of the corneal differentiation marker K12.
Collectively, the results indicate that Spry1 and -2 (1) through negative modulation of ERKs allow lens vesicle separation, (2) are targets of FGF signaling in the lens during initiation of fiber differentiation and (3) function redundantly in the corneal epithelial cells to suppress proliferation.