The role of a lens survival pathway including sox2 and αA-crystallin in the evolution of cavefish eye degeneration
Jeffery, William R
Ma, L., Parkhurst, A. & Jeffery, W.R. The role of a lens survival pathway including sox2 and αA-crystallin in the evolution of cavefish eye degeneration. EvoDevo 5, 28 (2014).
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The teleost Astyanax mexicanus is a single species consisting of eyed surface-dwelling (surface fish) and blind cave-dwelling (cavefish) morphs. Cavefish eyes are lost through apoptosis of the lens, which in turn promotes the degeneration of other optic tissues. The αA-crystallin (αA-crys) gene is strongly downregulated in the cavefish lens and is located in a genomic region (QTL) responsible for eye loss. Therefore, αA-crys has been proposed as a candidate for regulating cavefish eye degeneration. The purpose of this study was to determine the mechanism of αA-crys downregulation and its role in cavefish eye degeneration. The involvement of αA-crys in eye degeneration was confirmed by knocking down its expression in surface fish, which led to apoptosis of the lens. The underlying reason for αA-crys downregulation in cavefish was investigated by comparing genomic αA-crys DNA sequences in surface fish and cavefish, however, no obvious cis-regulatory factors were discovered. Furthermore, the cavefish αA-crys allele is expressed in surface fish x cavefish F1 hybrids, indicating that evolutionary changes in upstream genes are most likely responsible for αA-crys downregulation. In other species, Sox2 is one of the transcription factors that regulate lens crystallin genes during eye development. Determination of sox2 expression patterns during surface fish and cavefish development showed that sox2 is specifically downregulated in the cavefish lens. The upstream regulatory function of Sox2 was demonstrated by knockdown in surface fish, which abolished αA-crys expression and induced lens apoptosis. The results suggest that αA-crys is required for normal eye development in cavefish via suppression of lens apoptosis. The regulatory changes involved in αA-crys downregulation in cavefish are in trans-acting factors rather than cis-acting mutations in the αA-crys gene. Therefore, αA-crys is unlikely to be the mutated gene(s) associated with an Astyanax eye QTL. The results reveal a genetic pathway leading from sox2 to αA-crys that is required for survival of the lens in Astyanax surface fish. Defects in this pathway may be involved in lens apoptosis and thus a cause of cavefish eye degeneration.