Few directed searches have been undertaken to identify the genes involved in vertebrate lens formation. In the frog Xenopus, the larval cornea can undergo a process of transdifferentiation to form a new lens once the original lens is removed. Based on preliminary evidence, we have shown that this process shares many elements of a common molecular/genetic pathway to that involved in embryonic lens development. A subtracted cDNA library, enriched for genes expressed during cornea-lens transdifferentiation, was prepared. The similarities/identities of specific clones isolated from the subtracted cDNA library define an expression profile of cells undergoing cornea-lens transdifferentiation ("lens regeneration") and corneal wound healing (the latter representing a consequence of the surgery required to trigger transdifferentiation). Screens were undertaken to search for genes expressed during both transdifferentiation and embryonic lens development. Significantly, new genes were recovered that are also expressed during embryonic lens development. The expression of these genes, as well as others known to be expressed during embryonic development in Xenopus, can be correlated with different periods of embryonic lens induction and development, in an attempt to define these events in a molecular context. This information is considered in light of our current working model of embryonic lens induction, in which specific tissue properties and phases of induction have been previously defined in an experimental context. Expression data reveal the existence of further levels of complexity in this process and suggests that individual phases of lens induction and specific tissue properties are not strictly characterized or defined by expression of individual genes.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.