Complement component C3aR constitutes a novel regulator for chick eye morphogenesis

Dev Biol. 2017 Aug 1;428(1):88-100. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2017.05.019. Epub 2017 May 30.


Complement components have been implicated in a wide variety of functions including neurogenesis, proliferation, cell migration, differentiation, cancer, and more recently early development and regeneration. Following our initial observations indicating that C3a/C3aR signaling induces chick retina regeneration, we analyzed its role in chick eye morphogenesis. During eye development, the optic vesicle (OV) invaginates to generate a bilayer optic cup (OC) that gives rise to the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and neural retina. We show by immunofluorescence staining that C3 and the receptor for C3a (the cleaved and active form of C3), C3aR, are present in chick embryos during eye morphogenesis in the OV and OC. Interestingly, C3aR is mainly localized in the nuclear compartment at the OC stage. Loss of function studies at the OV stage using morpholinos or a blocking antibody targeting the C3aR (anti-C3aR Ab), causes eye defects such as microphthalmia and defects in the ventral portion of the eye that result in coloboma. Such defects were not observed when C3aR was disrupted at the OC stage. Histological analysis demonstrated that microphthalmic eyes were unable to generate a normal optic stalk or a closed OC. The dorsal/ventral patterning defects were accompanied by an expansion of the ventral markers Pax2, cVax and retinoic acid synthesizing enzyme raldh-3 (aldh1a3) domains, an absence of the dorsal expression of Tbx5 and raldh-1 (aldh1a1) and a re-specification of the ventral RPE to neuroepithelium. In addition, the eyes showed overall decreased expression of Gli1 and a change in distribution of nuclear β-catenin, suggesting that Shh and Wnt pathways have been affected. Finally, we observed prominent cell death along with a decrease in proliferating cells, indicating that both processes contribute to the microphthalmic phenotype. Together our results show that C3aR is necessary for the proper morphogenesis of the OC. This is the first report implicating C3aR in eye development, revealing an unsuspected hitherto regulator for proper chick eye morphogenesis.

Keywords: C3; C3aR; Coloboma; Complement; Eye development; Microphthalmia; Optic vesicle.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis / physiology
  • Body Patterning / physiology*
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology
  • Chick Embryo
  • Complement C3a / metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Hedgehog Proteins / metabolism
  • Microphthalmos / embryology
  • Morphogenesis / physiology
  • PAX2 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Receptors, Complement / genetics
  • Receptors, Complement / metabolism*
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase / metabolism
  • Retinal Pigment Epithelium / embryology*
  • T-Box Domain Proteins / metabolism
  • Wnt Signaling Pathway / physiology
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1 / biosynthesis
  • beta Catenin / metabolism


  • Hedgehog Proteins
  • PAX2 Transcription Factor
  • Receptors, Complement
  • T-Box Domain Proteins
  • T-box transcription factor 5
  • Zinc Finger Protein GLI1
  • beta Catenin
  • complement C3a receptor
  • Complement C3a
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase
  • Retinal Dehydrogenase