Postnatal development of the eye in the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber)



The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is a subterranean rodent whose eyes are thought to be visually nonfunctional and as such is an ideal animal with which to pursue questions in evolutionary developmental biology. This report is the first in-depth study on the development and morphology of the naked mole rat eye. Using standard histological analysis and scanning and transmission electron microscopy, we describe the structural features of the eye. We further report on the morphological changes that accompany the development of this eye from neonate to adult and compare them with those that occur during mouse eye development. We observed numerous abnormalities in the shape and cellular arrangement of the structures of the anterior chamber, with notable malformations of the lens. Cell proliferation and cell death assays were conducted to investigate the possible causes of lens malformation. We found that neither of these processes appeared abnormal, indicating that they were not responsible for the lens phenotype of the mole rat. In order to investigate the process of lens differentiation, we analyzed the expression of γ-crystallins using Western blots and immunocytochemistry. At birth, levels of γ-crystallin appear normal, but soon thereafter, the γ-crystallin expression is terminated. Absence of detectable γ-crystallins in adults suggests that there is a gradual degradation and loss of these proteins. The evolutionary factors that could be responsible for the eye morphology of the naked mole rat are discussed. A model for abnormal lens differentiation and the role it plays in the morphogenesis of the rest of the eye in the naked mole rats is proposed. Anat Rec Part A 277A:317–337, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.