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1.  Elk3 Deficiency Causes Transient Impairment in Post-Natal Retinal Vascular Development and Formation of Tortuous Arteries in Adult Murine Retinae 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(9):e107048.
Serum Response Factor (SRF) fulfills essential roles in post-natal retinal angiogenesis and adult neovascularization. These functions have been attributed to the recruitment by SRF of the cofactors Myocardin-Related Transcription Factors MRTF-A and -B, but not the Ternary Complex Factors (TCFs) Elk1 and Elk4. The role of the third TCF, Elk3, remained unknown. We generated a new Elk3 knockout mouse line and showed that Elk3 had specific, non-redundant functions in the retinal vasculature. In Elk3(−/−) mice, post-natal retinal angiogenesis was transiently delayed until P8, after which it proceeded normally. Interestingly, tortuous arteries developed in Elk3(−/−) mice from the age of four weeks, and persisted into late adulthood. Tortuous vessels have been observed in human pathologies, e.g. in ROP and FEVR. These human disorders were linked to altered activities of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in the affected eyes. However, in Elk3(−/−) mice, we did not observe any changes in VEGF or several other potential confounding factors, including mural cell coverage and blood pressure. Instead, concurrent with the post-natal transient delay of radial outgrowth and the formation of adult tortuous arteries, Elk3-dependent effects on the expression of Angiopoietin/Tie-signalling components were observed. Moreover, in vitro microvessel sprouting and microtube formation from P10 and adult aortic ring explants were reduced. Collectively, these results indicate that Elk3 has distinct roles in maintaining retinal artery integrity. The Elk3 knockout mouse is presented as a new animal model to study retinal artery tortuousity in mice and human patients.
PMCID: PMC4159304  PMID: 25203538
2.  Alterations of the Tunica Vasculosa Lentis in the Rat Model of Retinopathy of Prematurity 
To study the relation between retinal and tunica vasculosa lentis (TVL) disease in ROP. Although the clinical hallmark of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is abnormal retinal blood vessels, the vessels of the anterior segment, including the TVL, are also altered.
ROP was induced in Long Evans pigmented and Sprague-Dawley albino rats; room-air-reared (RAR) rats served as controls. Then, fluorescein angiographic images of the TVL and retinal vessels were serially obtained with a scanning laser ophthalmoscope (SLO) near the height of retinal vascular disease, ∼20 days-of-age, and again at 30 and 64 days-of-age. Additionally, electroretinograms (ERGs) were obtained prior to the first imaging session. The TVL images were analyzed for percent coverage of the posterior lens. The tortuosity of the retinal arterioles was determined using Retinal Image multiScale Analysis (RISA; Gelman et al., 2005).
In the youngest ROP rats, the TVL was dense, while in RAR rats, it was relatively sparse. By 30 days, the TVL in RAR rats had almost fully regressed, while in ROP rats it was still pronounced. By the final test age, the TVL had completely regressed in both ROP and RAR rats. In parallel, the tortuous retinal arterioles in ROP rats resolved with increasing age. ERG components indicating postreceptoral dysfunction, the b-wave and oscillatory potentials (OPs), were attenuated in ROP rats.
These findings underscore the retinal vascular abnormalities and, for the first time, show abnormal anterior segment vasculature in the rat model of ROP. There is delayed regression of the TVL in the rat model of ROP. This demonstrates that ROP is a disease of the whole eye.
PMCID: PMC3775643  PMID: 23748796
3.  Targeted Ablation of Crb1 and Crb2 in Retinal Progenitor Cells Mimics Leber Congenital Amaurosis 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(12):e1003976.
Development in the central nervous system is highly dependent on the regulation of the switch from progenitor cell proliferation to differentiation, but the molecular and cellular events controlling this process remain poorly understood. Here, we report that ablation of Crb1 and Crb2 genes results in severe impairment of retinal function, abnormal lamination and thickening of the retina mimicking human Leber congenital amaurosis due to loss of CRB1 function. We show that the levels of CRB1 and CRB2 proteins are crucial for mouse retinal development, as they restrain the proliferation of retinal progenitor cells. The lack of these apical proteins results in altered cell cycle progression and increased number of mitotic cells leading to an increased number of late-born cell types such as rod photoreceptors, bipolar and Müller glia cells in postmitotic retinas. Loss of CRB1 and CRB2 in the retina results in dysregulation of target genes for the Notch1 and YAP/Hippo signaling pathways and increased levels of P120-catenin. Loss of CRB1 and CRB2 result in altered progenitor cell cycle distribution with a decrease in number of late progenitors in G1 and an increase in S and G2/M phase. These findings suggest that CRB1 and CRB2 suppress late progenitor pool expansion by regulating multiple proliferative signaling pathways.
Author Summary
Mutations in the human CRB1 gene lead to one of the most severe forms of retinal dystrophies, called Leber congenital amaurosis. Here, we report that ablation of CRB1 and the second family member CRB2 are crucial for proper retinal development. These mice display severe impairment of retinal function, abnormal lamination and thickening of the retina mimicking human Leber congenital amaurosis due to loss of CRB1 function. The thickening of the retina is due to increased cell proliferation during late retinal development leading to an increased number of late-born retinal cells. We describe in these CRB1 Leber congenital amaurosis mouse models the molecular and cellular events involving CRB proteins during the development of the retina.
PMCID: PMC3854796  PMID: 24339791
4.  Cav1.4 IT mouse as model for vision impairment in human congenital stationary night blindness type 2 
Channels  2013;7(6):503-513.
Mutations in the CACNA1F gene encoding the Cav1.4 Ca2+ channel are associated with X-linked congenital stationary night blindness type 2 (CSNB2). Despite the increasing knowledge about the functional behavior of mutated channels in heterologous systems, the pathophysiological mechanisms that result in vision impairment remain to be elucidated. This work provides a thorough functional characterization of the novel IT mouse line that harbors the gain-of-function mutation I745T reported in a New Zealand CSNB2 family.1 Electroretinographic recordings in IT mice permitted a direct comparison with human data. Our data supported the hypothesis that a hyperpolarizing shift in the voltage-dependence of channel activation—as seen in the IT gain-of-function mutant2—may reduce the dynamic range of photoreceptor activity. Morphologically, the retinal outer nuclear layer in adult IT mutants was reduced in size and cone outer segments appeared shorter. The organization of the outer plexiform layer was disrupted, and synaptic structures of photoreceptors had a variable, partly immature, appearance. The associated visual deficiency was substantiated in behavioral paradigms. The IT mouse line serves as a specific model for the functional phenotype of human CSNB2 patients with gain-of-function mutations and may help to further understand the dysfunction in CSNB.
PMCID: PMC4042485  PMID: 24051672
CSNB2; L-type calcium channel; channelopathies; gain-of-function; retinal
5.  Lack of the Sodium-Driven Chloride Bicarbonate Exchanger NCBE Impairs Visual Function in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46155.
Regulation of ion and pH homeostasis is essential for normal neuronal function. The sodium-driven chloride bicarbonate exchanger NCBE (Slc4a10), a member of the SLC4 family of bicarbonate transporters, uses the transmembrane gradient of sodium to drive cellular net uptake of bicarbonate and to extrude chloride, thereby modulating both intracellular pH (pHi) and chloride concentration ([Cl−]i) in neurons. Here we show that NCBE is strongly expressed in the retina. As GABAA receptors conduct both chloride and bicarbonate, we hypothesized that NCBE may be relevant for GABAergic transmission in the retina. Importantly, we found a differential expression of NCBE in bipolar cells: whereas NCBE was expressed on ON and OFF bipolar cell axon terminals, it only localized to dendrites of OFF bipolar cells. On these compartments, NCBE colocalized with the main neuronal chloride extruder KCC2, which renders GABA hyperpolarizing. NCBE was also expressed in starburst amacrine cells, but was absent from neurons known to depolarize in response to GABA, like horizontal cells. Mice lacking NCBE showed decreased visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in behavioral experiments and smaller b-wave amplitudes and longer latencies in electroretinograms. Ganglion cells from NCBE-deficient mice also showed altered temporal response properties. In summary, our data suggest that NCBE may serve to maintain intracellular chloride and bicarbonate concentration in retinal neurons. Consequently, lack of NCBE in the retina may result in changes in pHi regulation and chloride-dependent inhibition, leading to altered signal transmission and impaired visual function.
PMCID: PMC3467262  PMID: 23056253
6.  PGC-1α Determines Light Damage Susceptibility of the Murine Retina 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31272.
The peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ coactivator 1 (PGC-1) proteins are key regulators of cellular bioenergetics and are accordingly expressed in tissues with a high energetic demand. For example, PGC-1α and PGC-1β control organ function of brown adipose tissue, heart, brain, liver and skeletal muscle. Surprisingly, despite their prominent role in the control of mitochondrial biogenesis and oxidative metabolism, expression and function of the PGC-1 coactivators in the retina, an organ with one of the highest energy demands per tissue weight, are completely unknown. Moreover, the molecular mechanisms that coordinate energy production with repair processes in the damaged retina remain enigmatic. In the present study, we thus investigated the expression and function of the PGC-1 coactivators in the healthy and the damaged retina. We show that PGC-1α and PGC-1β are found at high levels in different structures of the mouse retina, most prominently in the photoreceptors. Furthermore, PGC-1α knockout mice suffer from a striking deterioration in retinal morphology and function upon detrimental light exposure. Gene expression studies revealed dysregulation of all major pathways involved in retinal damage and apoptosis, repair and renewal in the PGC-1α knockouts. The light-induced increase in apoptosis in vivo in the absence of PGC-1α was substantiated in vitro, where overexpression of PGC-1α evoked strong anti-apoptotic effects. Finally, we found that retinal levels of PGC-1 expression are reduced in different mouse models for retinitis pigmentosa. We demonstrate that PGC-1α is a central coordinator of energy production and, importantly, all of the major processes involved in retinal damage and subsequent repair. Together with the observed dysregulation of PGC-1α and PGC-1β in retinitis pigmentosa mouse models, these findings thus imply that PGC-1α might be an attractive target for therapeutic approaches aimed at retinal degeneration diseases.
PMCID: PMC3278422  PMID: 22348062

Results 1-6 (6)