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Dev Genes Evol. 2000 May;210(5):223-30.

Prox 1 in eye degeneration and sensory organ compensation during development and evolution of the cavefish Astyanax.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742, USA.


We have investigated expression of the homeobox gene Prox 1 during eye degeneration and sensory organ compensation in cavefish embryos. The teleost Astyanax mexicanus consists of sighted surface-dwelling forms (surface fish) and several populations of blind cave-dwelling forms (cavefish), which have evolved independently. Eye formation is initiated during cavefish development, but the lens vesicle undergoes apoptosis, and the eye subsequently arrests and degenerates. The requirement of Prox 1 for lens fiber differentiation and gamma-crystallin expression in the mouse suggests that changes in the expression of this gene could be involved in cavefish eye degeneration. Surface fish and cavefish embryos stained with a Prox 1 antibody showed Prox 1 expression in the lens, neuroretina, myotomes, heart, hindbrain, and gut, as reported in other vertebrates. We found that Prox 1 expression is not altered during cavefish lens development. Prox 1 protein was detected in the lens vesicle as soon as it formed and persisted until the time of lens degeneration in each cavefish population. The cavefish lens vesicle was also shown to express a gamma-crystallin gene, suggesting that Prox 1 is functional in cavefish lens development. In addition to the tissues described above, Prox 1 is expressed in developing taste buds and neuromasts in cavefish, which are enhanced to compensate for blindness. It is concluded that the Prox 1 gene is not involved in lens degeneration, but that expansion of the Prox 1 expression domain occurs during taste bud and neuromast development in cavefish.

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