During development of the vertebrate visual system, retinal ganglion cell (RGC) axons follow a precise path toward their midbrain targets. Although much is known about the cues that direct RGC axons once they have left the optic disc, less is known about the guidance of axons at earlier stages, when RGCs first send out their axons to navigate within the developing retina. Using collagen gel coculture experiments, we find that the embryonic lens produces a powerful diffusible repulsive activity for RGC axons. We also find that this activity is localized to the lens epithelium and not the lens fiber layer, while the pigmented epithelium and vitreous humour are devoid of activity. The further observation that the lens also chemorepels primary sensory axons, but does not repel olfactory bulb axons, shows that this activity is specific for subsets of axons. Our experiments have excluded two candidate repellents for RGC axons (collapsin-1/sema III and chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans). These results implicate the lens in the earliest stages of RGC axon guidance. One function of the lens repellent may be to prevent aberrant targeting toward the lens, and it may also be involved in the directional guidance of RGC axons toward the optic disc.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Developmental Biology
- Cell Biology