Regulation of retinal interneuron subtype identity by the Iroquois homeobox gene Irx6

Development. 2012 Dec;139(24):4644-55. doi: 10.1242/dev.081729.


Interneuronal subtype diversity lies at the heart of the distinct molecular properties and synaptic connections that shape the formation of the neuronal circuits that are necessary for the complex spatial and temporal processing of sensory information. Here, we investigate the role of Irx6, a member of the Iroquois homeodomain transcription factor family, in regulating the development of retinal bipolar interneurons. Using a knock-in reporter approach, we show that, in the mouse retina, Irx6 is expressed in type 2 and 3a OFF bipolar interneurons and is required for the expression of cell type-specific markers in these cells, likely through direct transcriptional regulation. In Irx6 mutant mice, presumptive type 3a bipolar cells exhibit an expansion of their axonal projection domain to the entire OFF region of the inner plexiform layer, and adopt molecular features of both type 2 and 3a bipolar cells, highlighted by the ectopic upregulation of neurokinin 3 receptor (Nk3r) and Vsx1. These findings reveal Irx6 as a key regulator of type 3a bipolar cell identity that prevents these cells from adopting characteristic features of type 2 bipolar cells. Analysis of the Irx6;Vsx1 double null retina suggests that the terminal differentiation of type 2 bipolar cells is dependent on the combined expression of the transcription factors Irx6 and Vsx1, but also points to the existence of Irx6;Vsx1-independent mechanisms in regulating OFF bipolar subtype-specific gene expression. This work provides insight into the generation of neuronal subtypes by revealing a mechanism in which opposing, yet interdependent, transcription factors regulate subtype identity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Genes, Reporter / genetics
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Homeodomain Proteins / metabolism
  • Homeodomain Proteins / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Interneurons / cytology
  • Interneurons / metabolism
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurogenesis / genetics
  • Retina / embryology*
  • Retina / growth & development*
  • Retinal Bipolar Cells / metabolism
  • Retinal Bipolar Cells / physiology
  • Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*
  • Transfection


  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Irx6 protein, mouse
  • Transcription Factors