The developing eye is a favorite model for the study of pattern formation and cell fate determination. Retinal neuron development, in particular, is an approachable system to study molecular and cellular aspects of cell determination and differentiation. Basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factors are important regulators of retinal neurogenesis. Proneural bHLH genes have highly defined expression in the developing retina that are influenced by pattern formation and cell specification pathways. Each retinal cell class has unique bHLH requirements, implying that these genes regulate neuronal identity and function. Therefore, proneural genes represent a molecular focal point through which epithelial cells are transformed into a precise neural network. In this review, we focus on the bHLH factor Ath5, an important regulator of retinal ganglion cell development, and discuss factors that regulate its expression in the retina and the target genes through which it may confer specific neuronal properties.
Copyright 2001 Academic Press.