Regulated retinal ganglion cell (RGC) differentiation and axonal guidance is required for a functional visual system. Homeodomain and basic helix loop helix transcription factors are required for retinogenesis, as well as patterning, differentiation and maintenance of specific retinal cell types. We hypothesized that Dlx1/Dlx2 and Brn3b homeobox genes function in parallel intrinsic pathways to determine RGC fate and generated Dlx1/Dlx2/Brn3b triple knockout mice. A more severe retinal phenotype was found in the Dlx1/Dlx2/Brn3b null retinas than predicted by combining features of the Brn3b single and Dlx1/Dlx2 double knockout retinas, including near total RGC loss with a marked increase in amacrine cells in the ganglion cell layer. Furthermore, we discovered that DLX1 and DLX2 function as direct transcriptional activators of Brn3b expression. Knockdown of Dlx2 expression in primary embryonic retinal cultures and Dlx2 gain-of-function in utero strongly support that DLX2 is both necessary and sufficient for Brn3b expression in vivo. We suggest that Atoh7 specifies RGC committed progenitors and that Dlx1/Dlx2 functions both downstream of Atoh7 and in parallel but cooperative pathways involving regulation of Brn3b expression to determine RGC fate.
- Received July 8, 2016.
- Accepted March 17, 2017.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.