Purpose: To characterize the visual stimuli that control the expression of the transcription factor ZENK in glucagon-immunoreactive amacrine cells of the chicken retina. ZENK was previously found to change in correlation with the sign (+ or -) of imposed defocus, making it a potential candidate for regulation of the synthesis of growth factors involved in emmetropization.
Methods: Chicks were unilaterally treated with positive or negative lenses from 40 minutes to 2 hours. They were either kept in their cage environment (1000 lux) or in a large hemispheric dome under more homogeneous illumination (300 lux) in white or quasimonochromatic light (555 nm). In another experiment they were permitted only one viewing distance. ZENK expression was quantified in glucagon amacrine cells after the different treatments by means of double staining and cell counting.
Results: In all conditions tested, the number of ZENK-expressing cells was increased with positive lenses and reduced with negative lenses after only 40 minutes of exposure. If only one viewing distance was possible, the level of ZENK still responded to the sign of imposed defocus, although it required 80 minutes of treatment. In this experiment, the interocular difference was largely produced by changes in the contralateral control eyes rather than the lens-treated eyes. Finally, changes in ZENK expression appeared to be related to lens powers with a sigmoidal function, with saturation at approximately +7 D and -7 D of defocus, respectively.
Conclusions: The results confirm that changes in ZENK expression are selective for the sign of imposed defocus. They may be independent of illuminance and do not require chromatic cues or variable viewing distances. The pathways for the substantial interactions between both eyes are not clear at present.