The lens in the vertebrate eye has been shown to be critical for proper differentiation of the surrounding ocular tissues including the cornea, iris and ciliary body. In mice, previous investigators have assayed the consequences of molecular ablation of the lens. However, in these studies, lens ablation was initiated (and completed) after the cornea, retina, iris and ciliary body had initiated their differentiation programs thereby precluding analysis of the early role of the lens in fate determination of these tissues. In the present study, we have ablated the lens precursor cells of the surface ectoderm by generation of transgenic mice that express an attenuated version of diphtheria toxin (Tox176) linked to a modified Pax6 promoter that is active in the lens ectodermal precursors. In these mice, lens precursor cells fail to express Sox2, Prox1 and αA-crystallin and die before the formation of a lens placode. The Tox176 mice also showed profound alterations in the corneal differentiation program. The corneal epithelium displayed histological features of the skin, and expressed markers of skin differentiation such as Keratin 1 and 10 instead of Keratin 12, a marker of corneal epithelial differentiation. In the Tox176 mice, in the absence of the lens, extensive folding of the retina was seen. However, differentiation of the major cell types in the retina including the ganglion, amacrine, bipolar and horizontal cells was not affected. Unexpectedly, ectopic placement of the retinal pigmented epithelium was seen between the folds of the retina. Initial specification of the presumptive ciliary body and iris at the anterior margins of the retina was not altered in the Tox176 mice but their subsequent differentiation was blocked. Lacrimal and Harderian glands, which are derived from the Pax6-expressing surface ectodermal precursors, also failed to differentiate. These results suggest that, in mice, specification of the retina, ciliary body and iris occurs at the very outset of eye development and independent of the lens. In addition, our results also suggest that the lens cells of the surface ectoderm may be critical for the proper differentiation of the corneal epithelium.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cell Biology
- Developmental Biology
- Molecular Biology