The embryonic ocular neuroepithilium generates a myriad of cell types, including the neuroretina, the pigmented epithelium, the ciliary and iris epithelia, and the iris smooth muscles. As in other regions of the developing nervous system, the generation of these various cell types requires a coordinated sequence of patterning, specification and differentiation events. We investigated the roles of microRNAs (miRNAs) in the development of optic cup (OC)-derived structures. We inactivated Dicer1, a key mediator of miRNA biosynthesis, within the OC in overlapping yet distinct spatiotemporal patterns. Ablation of Dicer1 in the inner layer of the OC resulted in patterning alteration, particularly at the most distal margins. Following loss of Dicer1, this region generated a cryptic population of cells with a mixed phenotype of neuronal and ciliary body (CB) progenitors. Notably, inactivation of Dicer1 in the retinal progenitors further resulted in abrogated neurogenesis, with prolongation of ganglion cell birth and arrested differentiation of other neuronal subtypes, including amacrine and photoreceptor cells. These alterations were accompanied by changes in the expression of Notch and Hedgehog signaling components, indicating the sensitivity of the pathways to miRNA activity. Moreover, this study revealed the requirement of miRNAs for morphogenesis of the iris and for the regulation of CB cell type proliferation and differentiation. Together, analysis of the three genetic models revealed novel, stage-dependent roles for miRNAs in the development of the ocular sub-organs, which are all essential for normal vision.
- Ciliary body
- Optic cup