Characterizing the role of epigenetic regulation in the mammalian retina is critical for understanding fundamental mechanisms of retinal development and disease. DNA methylation, an epigenetic modifier of genomic DNA, plays an important role in modulating networks of tissue and cell-specific gene expression. However, the impact of DNA methylation on retinal development and homeostasis of retinal neurons remains unclear. Here, we have created a tissue-specific DNA methyltransferase (Dnmt) triple mutant mouse in an effort to characterize the impact of DNA methylation on retinal development and homeostasis. An Rx-Cre transgene was used to drive targeted mutation of all three murine Dnmt genes in the mouse retina encoding major DNA methylation enzymes DNMT1, DNMT3A and DNMT3B. The triple mutant mice represent a hypomorph model since Dnmt1 catalytic activity was still present and excision of Dnmt3a and Dnmt3b had only about 90% efficiency. Mutation of all three Dnmts resulted in global genomic hypomethylation and dramatic reorganization of the photoreceptor and synaptic layers within retina. Transcriptome and proteomic analyses demonstrated enrichment of dysregulated phototransduction and synaptic genes. The 5 mC signal in triple mutant retina was confined to the central heterochromatin but reduced in the peripheral heterochromatin region of photoreceptor nuclei. In addition, we found a reduction of the 5 mC signal in ganglion cell nuclei.
Collectively, this data suggests cooperation of all three Dnmts in the formation and homeostasis of photoreceptors and other retinal neurons within the mammalian retina, and highlight the relevance of epigenetic regulation to sensory retinal disorders and vision loss.