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Brain Res. 2008 Feb 4;1192:17-28. Epub 2007 Mar 20.

Iris development in vertebrates; genetic and molecular considerations.

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Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv 69978, Tel Aviv, Israel.


The iris plays a key role in visual function. It regulates the amount of light entering the eye and falling on the retina and also operates in focal adjustment of closer objects. The iris is involved in circulation of the aqueous humor and hence functions in regulation of intraocular pressure. Intriguingly, iris pigmented cells possess the ability to transdifferentiate into different ocular cell types of retinal pigmented epithelium, photoreceptors and lens cells. Thus, the iris is considered a potential source for cell-replacement therapies. During embryogenesis, the iris arises from both the optic cup and the periocular mesenchyme. Its interesting mode of development includes specification of the peripheral optic cup to a non-neuronal fate, migration of cells from the surrounding periocular mesenchyme and an atypical formation of smooth muscles from the neuroectoderm. This manner of development raises some interesting general topics concerning the early patterning of the neuroectoderm, the specification and differentiation of diverse cell types and the interactions between intrinsic and extrinsic factors in the process of organogenesis. In this review, we discuss iris anatomy and development, describe major pathologies of the iris and their molecular etiology and finally summarize the recent findings on genes and signaling pathways that are involved in iris development.

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