How the lens vesicle separates normally from the surface ectoderm has not been adequately explained. Apoptosis is an important mechanism that induces tissue development and morphogenesis by physiological cell death during normal development, and hyaluronic acid has been shown to regulate the apoptotic process in various tissues. To elucidate the normal and abnormal processes of lens vesicle separation, we investigated the distribution of apoptotic cells and hyaluronic acid in normal and abnormal lens vesicle development. The offspring from pregnant C57BL/6NJcl mice were removed by laparotomy on days 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 or 18 of gestation. Tissue blocks of the eyes were fixed in 4% paraformaldehyde solution and embedded in paraffin wax. Serial sections of the eye were cut, and sections containing normal lens tissues and spontaneously occurring faulty separation of the lens vesicle were chosen for subsequent procedures. These sections were stained either with TUNEL method for detection of apoptosis or with biotinylated hyaluronic acid binding protein (HABP) for hyaluronic acid. Then TUNEL-positive and HABP-positive reactions in the lens tissues were examined by light microscopy. In normal eye development, the lens stalk connecting the surface ectoderm with the lens vesicle was observed from day 11 through day 12 of gestation, and the lens stalk completely disappeared on day 13 of gestation in this strain. In normally regressive lens stalk, several TUNEL-positive cells were identified, and no positive staining for HABP was seen. However, in spontaneously occurring persistent lens stalk tissues on days 14, 15, 16 and 18 of gestation, no TUNEL-positive cells were detectable, and evident HABP-positive reactions were seen. In eyes on day 12 of gestation with possibly presumed faulty separation of the lens vesicle, no TUNEL-positive cells were detectable and evident HABP-positive reactions were seen in the lens stalk areas. The results indicated that cell death by apoptosis is anatomically closely associated with, appears to be essential for normal regression of the lens stalk, and its failure to occur leads to faulty separation of the lens vesicle. In addition, excessive hyaluronic acid in the lens stalk area may be a possible cause of the lack of apoptosis, inducing its faulty separation.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.