Anolis carolinensisas a model to understand the molecular and cellular basis of foveal development

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Abstract

The fovea is an anatomical specialization of the central retina containing closely packed cone-photoreceptors providing an area of high acuity vision in humans and primates. Despite its key role in the clarity of vision, little is known about the molecular and cellular basis of foveal development, due to the absence of a foveal structure in commonly used laboratory animal models. Of the amniotes the retina in birds of prey and some reptiles do exhibit a typical foveal structure, but they have not been studied in the context of foveal development due to lack of availability of embryonic tissue, lack of captive breeding programs, and limited genomic information. However, the genome for the diurnal bifoveate reptile species Anolis carolinensis (green anole) was recently published and it is possible to collect embryos from this species in captivity. Here, we tested the feasibility of using the anole as a model to study foveal development. Eyes were collected at various stages of development for histological analysis, immunofluorescence, and apoptosis. We show that at embryonic stage (ES) 10 there is peak ganglion cell density at the incipient central foveal region and a single row of cone photoreceptor nuclei. At ES17 the foveal pit begins to form and at this stage there are 3–4 rows of cone nuclei. Post-hatching a further increase in cone density and lengthening of inner and outer segments is observed. A yellowish pigment was seen in the adult central foveal region, but not in the temporal fovea. At ES14 Pax6 was localized across the entire retina, but was more prominent in the ganglion cell layer (GCL) and the part of the inner nuclear layer (INL) containing amacrine cell bodies. However, at ES17 Pax6 expression in the ganglion cells of the central retina was markedly reduced. Bioinformatic analysis revealed that 86% of human candidate foveal hypoplasia genes had an orthologous gene or DNA sequence in the green anole. These findings provide the first insight into foveal morphogenesis in the green anole and suggest that it could be a very useful model for investigating the molecular signals driving foveal development, and thus inform on human foveal development and disease.

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