Individual retinal progenitor cells display extensive heterogeneity of gene expression

PLoS One. 2008 Feb 13;3(2):e1588. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001588.


The development of complex tissues requires that mitotic progenitor cells integrate information from the environment. The highly varied outcomes of such integration processes undoubtedly depend at least in part upon variations among the gene expression programs of individual progenitor cells. To date, there has not been a comprehensive examination of these differences among progenitor cells of a particular tissue. Here, we used comprehensive gene expression profiling to define these differences among individual progenitor cells of the vertebrate retina. Retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) have been shown by lineage analysis to be multipotent throughout development and to produce distinct types of daughter cells in a temporal, conserved order. A total of 42 single RPCs were profiled on Affymetrix arrays. In situ hybridizations performed on both retinal sections and dissociated retinal cells were used to validate the results of the microarrays. An extensive amount of heterogeneity in gene expression among RPCs, even among cells isolated from the same developmental time point, was observed. While many classes of genes displayed heterogeneity of gene expression, the expression of transcription factors constituted a significant amount of the observed heterogeneity. In contrast to previous findings, individual RPCs were found to express multiple bHLH transcription factors, suggesting alternative models to those previously developed concerning how these factors may be coordinated. Additionally, the expression of cell cycle related transcripts showed differences among those associated with G2 and M, versus G1 and S phase, suggesting different levels of regulation for these genes. These data provide insights into the types of processes and genes that are fundamental to cell fate choices, proliferation decisions, and, for cells of the central nervous system, the underpinnings of the formation of complex circuitry.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Cycle
  • Cell Lineage
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Mice
  • Multipotent Stem Cells / cytology
  • Retina / cytology*
  • Stem Cells*
  • Transcription Factors


  • Transcription Factors