Purpose: Bioinformatics has emerged as a powerful tool for identifying novel genes and pathways associated with retinal biology and disease. The developing mouse retina expresses an exceedingly large and complex variety of genes. Many of these genes have not been characterized but nevertheless are likely to have important developmental or physiological functions. The purpose of this study was to use an in silico approach with a mouse embryonic retinal database of cDNAs/expressed sequence tags (ESTs) named RetinalExpress to identify previously uncharacterized genes that are represented in the developing retina.
Methods: cDNA clones unique to the RetinalExpress database were identified by comparing clones in the RetinalExpress database with those in other cDNA/EST databases. We used a hierarchical filtering procedure with high stringency criteria that included sequence quality, colinearity with hypothetical gene sequences, and absence of any substantial existing annotation to select clones that were likely to represent novel genes. Selected clones were located on mouse chromosomes using National Center for Biotechnology Informatics Map Viewer software and the database from the University of California at Santa Cruz Genome Bioinformatics Web browser. The expression of selected retinal transcripts was determined using reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR. In situ hybridization of sectioned embryonic and postnatal retinas was performed to determine spatial expression patterns of selected transcripts.
Results: Of the 27,765 cDNA clones from RetinalExpress that we filtered through several public cDNA/EST databases, 26 cDNA/EST sequences were identified that, at the time of the analysis, were unique to RetinalExpress. Seventeen clones were selected for RT-PCR analysis, and retinal transcripts corresponding to previously uncharacterized genes were unambiguously detected for six clones. Three genes encoded open reading frames containing putative functional domains; one sequence contained an HMG DNA binding domain, another, an RFX DNA binding domain, and another, a phospholipase C catalytic domain X. Transcripts from the genes encoding DNA binding domains were expressed in embryonic and postnatal retinas with distinct spatial patterns.
Conclusions: The characterization of 26 mouse genes whose partial nucleotide sequences were uniquely represented in the RetinalExpress cDNA/EST database demonstrated the feasibility of retinal gene discovery using in silico analysis. Two of these genes had distinctive spatial expression patterns in the retina and one was likely to function as a DNA binding protein in embryonic and postnatal retinas. The gene identification approach described here demonstrates the usefulness of establishing large cDNA/EST databases from highly specialized neuronal tissues such as the retina to find novel genes.