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Neuron. 2009 Jan 29;61(2):234-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.12.006.

Pias3-dependent SUMOylation directs rod photoreceptor development.

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Department of Neuroscience, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, BRB 329, 733 North Broadway Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA.


Specification of retinal rod photoreceptors is determined by several different transcription factors that activate expression of rod-specific genes and repress expression of cone photoreceptor-specific genes. The mechanism by which this dual regulation occurs is unclear. We have found that Pias3, a transcriptional coregulator and E3 SUMO ligase that is selectively expressed in developing photoreceptors, promotes the differentiation of rod photoreceptors while preventing rods from adopting cone photoreceptor-like characteristics. Pias3 binds the photoreceptor-specific transcription factors Crx and Nr2e3 and is specifically targeted to the promoters of photoreceptor-specific genes. Pias3 SUMOylates Nr2e3, converting it into a potent repressor of cone-specific gene expression. Rod- and cone-specific promoters are bound by hyperSUMOylated proteins in rod photoreceptors, and blocking SUMOylation in photoreceptors results in cells with morphological and molecular features of cones and an absence of rod-specific markers. Our data thus identify Pias3-mediated SUMOylation of photoreceptor-specific transcription factors as a key mechanism of rod specification.

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