Vax1/2 Genes Counteract Mitf-Induced Respecification of the Retinal Pigment Epithelium
During vertebrate eye development, the transcription factor MITF acts to promote the development of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). In embryos with Mitf mutations, the future RPE hyperproliferates and is respecified as retinal tissue but only in a small portion of the dorsal RPE. Using a series of genetic crosses, we show that this spatial restriction of RPE respecification is brought about by persistent expression of the anti-retinogenic ventral homeodomain gene Vax2 in the dorso-proximal and both Vax1 and Vax2 in the ventral RPE. We further show that dorso-proximal RPE respecification in Vax2/Mitf double mutants and dorso-proximal and ventral RPE respecification in Vax1/2/Mitf triple mutants result from increased FGF/MAP kinase signaling. In none of the mutants, however, does the distal RPE show signs of hyperproliferation or respecification, likely due to local JAGGED1/NOTCH signaling. Expression studies and optic vesicle culture experiments also suggest a role for NOTCH signaling within the mutant dorsal RPE domains, where ectopic JAGGED1 expression may partially counteract the effects of FGF/ERK1/2 signaling on RPE respecification. The results indicate the presence of complex interplays between distinct transcription factors and signaling molecules during eye development and show how RPE phenotypes associated with mutations in one gene are modulated by expression changes in other genes.