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Mol Vis. 2001 Nov 19;7:253-60.

Modulation of retinal cell populations and eye size in retinoic acid receptor knockout mice.

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Center for Neuroscience, University of Tennessee, Memphis, TN 38163, USA.



The retinoic acid receptors are expressed from early stages of development in the diverse tissues that make up the vertebrate eye. Their loss has subtle effects on eye development. We adapted sensitive quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping methods to assess consequences of inactivating alleles of the alpha and beta receptors, Rara and Rarb, on eye and retinal development. Rara is of particular interest because this gene is a candidate for Nnc1, a QTL that controls retinal ganglion cell proliferation.


We studied lines of mice in which expression of the a1 isoform of Rara or all isoforms of Rarb had been disrupted by gene targeting. We measured eye weight, lens weight, retinal area, and retinal ganglion cell number in each of six genotypes (Rara and Rarb -/-, +/-, +/+; 10-25 cases/genotype).


Loss of either protein is associated with a small but significant loss of eye weight and retinal area. However, only the Rarb knockout has a significant effect on the ganglion cell population and the loss of both wildtype alleles leads to an 8,000 cell deficit. Surprisingly, loss of the Rara a1 isoform that is expressed in this cell population from early stages has no effect on number. Null alleles of both genes have little if any effect on lens growth.


Despite its expression in embryonic retina, Rara is unlikely to be the Nnc1 QTL. In contrast, Rarb, a gene that maps to Chr 14 and which is not an Nnc1 candidate gene, has a significant effect on cell number and is therefore a QTL controlling this key population. This raises the intriguing possibility that normal allelic variants of Rarb modulate the ganglion cell population in other vertebrates, including humans.

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