Activation of the Hedgehog Signaling Pathway in the Developing Lens Stimulates EctopicFoxE3Expression and Disruption in Fiber Cell Differentiation
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PURPOSE: The signaling pathways and transcriptional effectors responsible for directing mammalian lens development provide key regulatory molecules that can inform our understanding of human eye defects. The hedgehog genes encode extracellular signaling proteins responsible for patterning and tissue formation during embryogenesis. Signal transduction of this pathway is mediated through activation of the transmembrane proteins smoothened and patched, stimulating downstream signaling resulting in the activation or repression of hedgehog target genes. Hedgehog signaling is implicated in eye development, and defects in hedgehog signaling components have been shown to result in defects of the retina, iris, and lens. METHODS: We assessed the consequences of constitutive hedgehog signaling in the developing mouse lens using Cre-LoxP technology to express the conditional M2 smoothened allele in the embryonic head and lens ectoderm. RESULTS: Although initial lens development appeared normal, morphological defects were apparent by E12.5 and became more significant at later stages of embryogenesis. Altered lens morphology correlated with ectopic expression of FoxE3, which encodes a critical gene required for human and mouse lens development. Later, inappropriate expression of the epithelial marker Pax6, and as well as fiber cell markers c-maf and Prox1 also occurred, indicating a failure of appropriate lens fiber cell differentiation accompanied by altered lens cell proliferation and cell death. CONCLUSIONS: Our findings demonstrate that the ectopic activation of downstream effectors of the hedgehog signaling pathway in the mouse lens disrupts normal fiber cell differentiation by a mechanism consistent with a sustained epithelial cellular developmental program driven by FoxE3.
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