Purpose: Experimental tissue transplant studies reveal that lens development is directed by a series of early and late inductive interactions. These interactions impart a growing lens-forming bias within competent presumptive lens ectoderm that leads to specification and the commitment to lens fate. Relatively few genes are known which control these events. Identification of additional genes expressed during lens development may reveal key players in these processes and help to characterize these tissue properties.
Methods: A large suite of genes has been isolated that are expressed during the process of cornea-lens transdifferentiation (lens regeneration) in Xenopus laevis. Many of these genes are also expressed during embryonic lens development. Genes were selected for expression analysis via in situ hybridization. This group consisted of clones with possible roles in cell determination and differentiation as well as novel clones without previous identities. The spatiotemporal expression of these genes in conjunction with previously described genes were correlated with key events during embryonic lens formation.
Results: Eighteen of the thirty clones analyzed via in situ hybridization demonstrated observable expression in the developing lens. These genes were initially expressed in the presumptive lens ectoderm at a variety of timepoints throughout development. Expression is restricted to discrete time intervals during lens development. However, in most cases, expression was maintained throughout lens development after being initially upregulated.
Conclusions: The expression of these genes suggests that a genetic hierarchy exists in which an increasing number of genes are upregulated and their expression is maintained throughout lens development. Suites of genes appear to be upregulated at specific timepoints during development, correlating with stages of lens induction, specification, commitment, lens placode formation, and lens differentiation, while suites at additional timepoints suggest that other, previously unreported stages exist as well. This analysis provides a genetic framework for characterizing these processes of lens development.