Regulation of photoreceptor gene expression by Crx-associated transcription factor network

Brain Res. 2008 Feb 4:1192:114-33. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2007.06.036. Epub 2007 Jun 30.


Rod and cone photoreceptors in the mammalian retina are special types of neurons that are responsible for phototransduction, the first step of vision. Development and maintenance of photoreceptors require precisely regulated gene expression. This regulation is mediated by a network of photoreceptor transcription factors centered on Crx, an Otx-like homeodomain transcription factor. The cell type (subtype) specificity of this network is governed by factors that are preferentially expressed by rods or cones or both, including the rod-determining factors neural retina leucine zipper protein (Nrl) and the orphan nuclear receptor Nr2e3; and cone-determining factors, mostly nuclear receptor family members. The best-documented of these include thyroid hormone receptor beta2 (Tr beta2), retinoid related orphan receptor Ror beta, and retinoid X receptor Rxr gamma. The appropriate function of this network also depends on general transcription factors and cofactors that are ubiquitously expressed, such as the Sp zinc finger transcription factors and STAGA co-activator complexes. These cell type-specific and general transcription regulators form complex interactomes; mutations that interfere with any of the interactions can cause photoreceptor development defects or degeneration. In this manuscript, we review recent progress on the roles of various photoreceptor transcription factors and interactions in photoreceptor subtype development. We also provide evidence of auto-, para-, and feedback regulation among these factors at the transcriptional level. These protein-protein and protein-promoter interactions provide precision and specificity in controlling photoreceptor subtype-specific gene expression, development, and survival. Understanding these interactions may provide insights to more effective therapeutic interventions for photoreceptor diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Feedback, Physiological / genetics
  • Feedback, Physiological / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / genetics*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Photoreceptor Cells / cytology
  • Photoreceptor Cells / embryology*
  • Photoreceptor Cells / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / genetics
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / metabolism
  • Retinal Diseases / genetics
  • Retinal Diseases / metabolism
  • Retinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Stem Cells / cytology
  • Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Trans-Activators / genetics*
  • Transcription Factors / genetics*


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Trans-Activators
  • Transcription Factors
  • cone rod homeobox protein