Nonsense mutation in the WDR73 gene is associated with Galloway-Mowat syndrome.

Ben-Omran T, Fahiminiya S, Sorfazlian N, Almuriekhi M, Nawaz Z, Nadaf J, Khadija KA, Zaineddin S, Kamel H, Majewski J, Tropepe V

J. Med. Genet. 2015 Jun; 52(6):381-90

PMID: 25873735


Neuroanatomical defects are often present in children with severe developmental delay and intellectual disabilities. Few genetic loci have been associated with disorders of neurodevelopment. Our objective of the present study was to analyse a consanguineous Arab family showing some of the hallmark signs of a rare cerebellar hypoplasia-related neurodevelopmental syndrome as a strategy for discovering a causative genetic mutation.

Mutual antagonism of the paired-type homeobox genes, vsx2 and dmbx1, regulates retinal progenitor cell cycle exit upstream of ccnd1 expression.

Wong L, Power N, Miles A, Tropepe V

Dev. Biol. 2015 Jun 15; 402(2):216-28

PMID: 25872183


Understanding the mechanisms that regulate the transition between the proliferative and a post-mitotic state of retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) is key to advancing our knowledge of retinal growth and maturation. In the present study we determined that during zebrafish embryonic retinal neurogenesis, two paired-type homeobox genes – vsx2 and dmbx1 – function in a mutually antagonistic manner. We demonstrate that vsx2 gene expression requires active Fgf signaling and that this in turn suppresses dmbx1 expression and maintains cells in an undifferentiated, proliferative RPC state. This vsx2-dependent RPC state can be prolonged cell-autonomously by knockdown of dmbx1, or it can be suppressed prematurely by the over-expression of dmbx1, which we show can inhibit vsx2 expression and lead to precocious neuronal differentiation. dmbx1 loss of function also results in altered expression of canonical cell cycle genes, and in particular up-regulation of ccnd1, which correlates with our previous finding of a prolonged RPC cell cycle. By knocking down ccnd1 and dmbx1 simultaneously, we show that RPCs can overcome this phenotype to exit the cell cycle on time and differentiate normally into retinal neurons. Collectively, our data provide novel insight into the mechanism that enables RPCs to exit the cell cycle through a previously unrecognized antagonistic interaction of two paired-type homeobox genes that are central regulators of an Fgf-vsx2-dmbx1-ccnd1 signaling axis.

Evolutionary transformation of rod photoreceptors in the all-cone retina of a diurnal garter snake.

Schott RK, Müller J, Yang CG, Bhattacharyya N, Chan N, Xu M, Morrow JM, Ghenu AH, Loew ER, Tropepe V, Chang BS

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 2016 Jan 12; 113(2):356-61

PMID: 26715746


Vertebrate retinas are generally composed of rod (dim-light) and cone (bright-light) photoreceptors with distinct morphologies that evolved as adaptations to nocturnal/crepuscular and diurnal light environments. Over 70 years ago, the “transmutation” theory was proposed to explain some of the rare exceptions in which a photoreceptor type is missing, suggesting that photoreceptors could evolutionarily transition between cell types. Although studies have shown support for this theory in nocturnal geckos, the origins of all-cone retinas, such as those found in diurnal colubrid snakes, remain a mystery. Here we investigate the evolutionary fate of the rods in a diurnal garter snake and test two competing hypotheses: (i) that the rods, and their corresponding molecular machinery, were lost or (ii) that the rods were evolutionarily modified to resemble, and function, as cones. Using multiple approaches, we find evidence for a functional and unusually blue-shifted rhodopsin that is expressed in small single “cones.” Moreover, these cones express rod transducin and have rod ultrastructural features, providing strong support for the hypothesis that they are not true cones, as previously thought, but rather are modified rods. Several intriguing features of garter snake rhodopsin are suggestive of a more cone-like function. We propose that these cone-like rods may have evolved to regain spectral sensitivity and chromatic discrimination as a result of ancestral losses of middle-wavelength cone opsins in early snake evolution. This study illustrates how sensory evolution can be shaped not only by environmental constraints but also by historical contingency in forming new cell types with convergent functionality.