Purpose: Members of the TGFbeta super-family have been shown to play important roles in lens development, including lens placode formation and fiber differentiation, and also induce changes characteristic of some forms of cataract. Previous studies demonstrated expression of TGFbeta receptors during lens morphogenesis. However, the expression patterns of activin and BMP receptors or their signaling mediators, the Smad proteins, have not been well documented. In this study we examine the spatio-temporal expression patterns of activin receptors (ActRIIA, ActRIIB, ALK1, and ALK2), BMP receptors (BMPRII, ALK3, and ALK6), and the distribution of the phosphorylated forms of Smad1 and Smad2 during normal lens development (E12-P21) and aberrant development in transgenic mice that express dominant negative TGFbeta receptors.
Methods: RT-PCR was used to identify receptor expression in total RNA isolated from P2 and P21 rat lenses. cDNAs were cloned and used for in situ hybridization analysis of spatio-temporal expression patterns in wild type and transgenic (OVE550 and OVE591) lenses. Expression of ALK3 was also examined by immunofluorescence and immunoblotting. Antibodies for phosphorylated forms of Smad1 and Smad2 were used to examine activation of BMP and activin signaling.
Results: RT-PCR of RNA from postnatal lenses showed distinct expression of ActRIIA, ActRIIB, BMPRII, and ALK3 but not ALK1, ALK2, or ALK 6. In situ hybridization with specific probes for BMPRII, ActRII, and ALK3 showed ubiquitous expression in ectoderm, lens pit, optic vesicle, and peri-optic mesenchyme during early lens formation at E12. During subsequent lens differentiation, from E14 onwards, expression of these receptors became increasingly restricted to the lens epithelium and to the equatorial region, including the germinative and transitional zones, where cells proliferate and commence differentiation, respectively. Expression for both receptors declined rapidly with fiber differentiation and maturation. Immunofluorescence with specific antibodies for phospho-Smad1 and phospho-Smad2 showed distinct localization of these signaling mediators in epithelial cells of the germinative zone and in fibers undergoing early differentiation in the transitional zone. Further investigation of the expression of these receptors in lenses of transgenic mice, which ectopically express a truncated TbetaRII, showed marked up regulation and aberrant expression of ALK3, but not BMPRII or ActRII.
Conclusions: These results indicate that multiple members of the TGFbeta family have the potential to signal during lens fiber differentiation and suggest there may be cross-talk between different signaling pathways.