Regeneration of cone photoreceptors when cell ablation is primarily restricted to a particular cone subtype

PLoS One. 2013;8(1):e55410. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055410. Epub 2013 Jan 30.


We sought to characterize the regenerated cells, if any, when photoreceptor ablation was mostly limited to a particular cone subtype. This allowed us to uniquely assess whether the remaining cells influence specification of regenerating photoreceptors. The ability to replace lost photoreceptors via stem cell therapy holds promise for treating many retinal degenerative diseases. Zebrafish are potent for modelling this because they have robust regenerative capacity emanating from endogenous stem cells, and abundant cone photoreceptors including multiple spectral subtypes similar to human fovea. We ablated the homolog of the human S-cones, the ultraviolet-sensitive (UV) cones, and tested the hypothesis that the photoreceptors regenerating in their place take on identities matching those expected from normal cone mosaic development. We created transgenic fish wherein UV cones can be ablated by addition of a prodrug. Thus photoreceptors developed normally and only the UV cones expressed nitroreductase; the latter converts the prodrug metronidazole to a cell-autonomous neurotoxin. A significant increase in proliferation of progenitor cell populations (p<0.01) was observed when cell ablation was primarily limited to UV cones. In control fish, we found that BrdU primarily incorporated into rod photoreceptors, as expected. However the majority of regenerating photoreceptors became cones when retinal cell ablation was predominantly restricted to UV cones: a 2-fold increase in the relative abundance of cones (p = 0.008) was mirrored by a 35% decrease in rods. By primarily ablating only a single photoreceptor type, we show that the subsequent regeneration is biased towards restoring the cognate photoreceptor type. We discuss the hypothesis that, after cone death, the microenvironment formed by the remaining retinal cells may be influential in determining the identity of regenerating photoreceptors, though other interpretations are plausible. Our novel animal model provides control of ablation that will assist in identifying mechanisms required to replace cone photoreceptors clinically to restore daytime vision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ablation Techniques / methods
  • Animals
  • Animals, Genetically Modified
  • Bromodeoxyuridine
  • Cryoultramicrotomy
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • In Situ Nick-End Labeling
  • Metronidazole / pharmacology
  • Models, Animal*
  • Nitroreductases
  • Regeneration / physiology*
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / drug effects
  • Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Zebrafish


  • Metronidazole
  • Nitroreductases
  • Bromodeoxyuridine