Developmental genetics in ophthalmology

Ophthalmic Genet. 2003 Mar;24(1):1-33. doi: 10.1076/opge.


Much of our knowledge about the function of genes in mammalian development has been derived from the molecular analysis of spontaneous or induced mutations in the mouse. Since mutations affecting the mouse eye can be easily identified, a remarkable number of mutant lines provide animal models for congenital anomalies in man. To understand the mechanisms of lens development in detail, the isolation of the corresponding genes and the characterization of the mutations at the molecular level are important. A prerequisite for molecular analysis is the chromosomal localization of the gene. In this review, some mutants from our institute will be discussed according to the embryological time scale of the expression of the affected genes, reflecting also their genetic hierarchy. (1) In the aphakia mouse mutant, two deletions in the promoter of the homeobox transcription factor Pitx3 lead to a loss of its function and to an arrest of eye development at the lens stalk stage. Mutations in the homologous human PITX3 gene have been demonstrated to be causative of cataracts and the dysmorphology of the anterior segment of the eye. (2) Connexin50 is present in the lens vesicle. Later on, it becomes abundant in the anterior part of the fiber cells and in the lens epithelial cells. Mutations in the connexin50-encoding gene Gja8 lead to dominant cataracts. (3) alphaA-crystallin is present in the mouse lens cup, in the posterior half of the lens vesicle, and later in a high concentration in the lens fiber cells. Mutations in the alphaA-crystallin-encoding gene Cryaa lead to recessive and dominant cataracts. (4) Mutations in the gamma-crystallin -encoding genes (Cryg) are the most frequent cause of congenital, dominant nuclear, or total cataracts in the mouse. Indications from our first studies in congenital human cataracts support these data. (5) Some postnatal, progressive cataracts have been characterized by mutations in the beta-crystallin -encoding genes (Cryb). Since at least one of them is also expressed in the retina and the brain, effects on these tissues have to be considered, too.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cataract / genetics*
  • Crystallins / genetics*
  • Eye Abnormalities / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / abnormalities*
  • Lens, Crystalline / embryology
  • Mice
  • Mutation / genetics


  • Crystallins