Cornea-lens transdifferentiation in the anuran, Xenopus tropicalis
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- Henry, J.J. & Elkins, M.B. Dev Genes Evol (2001) 211: 377. doi:10.1007/s004270100163
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Previously, the only anuran amphibian known to regenerate the lens of the eye was Xenopus laevis. This occurs during larval stages through transdifferentiation of the outer cornea epithelium under control of factors presumably secreted by the neural retina. This study demonstrates that a distantly related species, X. tropicalis, is also able to regenerate lenses through this process. A transgenic line of X. tropicalis was used to examine the process of cornea-lens transdifferentiation in which green fluorescent protein (GFP) is expressed in differentiated lens cells under the control of the Xenopus γ1-crystallin promoter element. Unlike X. laevis, the process of cornea-lens transdifferentiation typically occurs at a very low frequency in X. tropicalis due to the rapid rate at which the inner cornea endothelium heals to recover the pupillary opening. The inner cornea endothelium serves as a key physical barrier that normally prevents retinal signals from reaching the outer cornea epithelium. If this barrier is circumvented by implanting outer cornea epithelium of transgenic tadpoles directly into the vitreous chamber of non-transgenic X. tropicalis larval eyes, a higher percentage of cases formed lenses expressing GFP. Lenses were also formed if these tissues were implanted into X. laevis larval eyes, suggesting the same or similar inducing factors are present in both species. When pericorneal ectoderm and posteriolateral flank ectoderm were implanted into the vitreous chamber, only in rare cases did pericorneal ectoderm form lens cells. Thus, unlike the case in X. laevis, competence to respond to the inducing factors is tightly restricted to the cornea epithelium in X. tropicalis. As controls, all these tissues were implanted into the space located between the inner and outer corneas. None of these implants, including outer cornea epithelium, exhibited GFP expression. Thus, the essential inductive factors are normally contained within the vitreous chamber. One explanation why this type of lens regeneration is not seen in some other anurans could be due to the rapid rate at which the inner cornea endothelium heals to recover the pupillary opening once the original lens is removed. These findings are discussed in terms of the evolution of this developmental process within the anurans.