Neural stem cells are cells that can differentiate into different cell types in the nervous system. In the developing eye, retinal neural stem cells differentiate to form the neurons of the adult eye and form the optic nerve.
Led by Dr. Larysa H. Pevny, an assistant professor of genetics in the UNC School of Medicine, researchers discovered that expression levels of a particular neural stem cell gene, SOX2, are a critical factor that regulates the differentiation of neural stem/progenitor cells in the eye.
Their work appears in the current edition of the journal Genes & Development.
The SOX2 gene is a member of class of master genes that encode for transcription factors. Transcription factors are proteins that bind to DNA and regulate the expression of other genes
The investigators discovered that, in mice, disruption of the SOX2 gene in neural retinal stem cells leads to a kind of abnormal development of the eye called microphtalmia, or small eye. Approximately 10 percent of all human cases of microphtalmia result from mutations in the SOX2 gene.
Moreover, this study indicates that the degree to which SOX2 gene is disrupted dictates the severity of this condition.
"We found that even a reduction in normal SOX2 levels causes problems in these mice and this mimics the problems seen in humans," said Pevny.
The scientist pointed out that the problem in eye development in these mice results from loss of SOX2 mediated maintenance of the neural progenitor cell population in the eye.
According to Pevny, the study demonstrates that normal development of the eye is contingent upon having the right amount of SOX2, expressed at the right time and place. "Too little SOX2 expression results in
Source:University of North Carolina School of Medicine