Int. J. Dev. Biol. 44: 627 - 636 (2000)
© UPV/EHU Press

Homeobox genes in the genetic control of eye development.

G Lupo, M Andreazzoli, G Gestri, Y Liu, R Q He and G Barsacchi

Sezione di Biologia Cellulare e dello Sviluppo, Dipartimento di Fisiologia e Biochimica, Università di Pisa, Italy.

ABSTRACT Vertebrate eye formation is a complex process which involves early specification of the prospective eye territory, induction events, patterning along the polarity axes and regional specification, to bring about the proper morphogenetic movements, cell proliferation, cell differentiation and neural connections allowing visual function. The molecular machinery underlying such complex developmental events is presently under an intense research scrutiny and many associated genetic factors have been isolated and characterized. These studies produced striking knowledge in the field, especially with respect to uncovering the role of key genes and their possible evolutionary conservation. Presently, a major task is to define the complex interactions connecting the multiplicity of molecular players that regulate eye development. We recently identified two homeobox genes, Xrx1 and Xvax2, and studied their function by using the Xenopus embryo as a developmental model system. Xrx1 and Xvax2 control key aspects of eye development. In particular, Xrx1 appears to play a role in the early specification of anterior neural regions fated to give rise to retina and forebrain structures, and in promoting cell proliferation within these territories. On the other hand, Xvax2 is involved in regulating the eye proximo-distal and/or dorsoventral polarity, and the morphogenetic movements taking place during formation of the optic stalk and cup. Here we review the experimental results addressing the roles of Xrx1 and Xvax2 and their vertebrate orthologues, and discuss their relationship with other molecules also playing a related function in eye development.