The lens equator: A platform for molecular machinery that regulates the switch from cell proliferation to differentiation in the vertebrate lens

Authors

  • Toshiaki Mochizuki,

    1. Developmental Neurobiology Unit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Onna, Okinawa, Japan
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  • Ichiro Masai

    Corresponding author
    1. Developmental Neurobiology Unit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, Onna, Okinawa, Japan
    • Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed. Email: masai@oist.jp

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Abstract

The vertebrate lens is a transparent, spheroidal tissue, located in the anterior region of the eye that focuses visual images on the retina. During development, surface ectoderm associated with the neural retina invaginates to form the lens vesicle. Cells in the posterior half of the lens vesicle differentiate into primary lens fiber cells, which form the lens fiber core, while cells in the anterior half maintain a proliferative state as a monolayer lens epithelium. After formation of the primary fiber core, lens epithelial cells start to differentiate into lens fiber cells at the interface between the lens epithelium and the primary lens fiber core, which is called the equator. Differentiating lens fiber cells elongate and cover the old lens fiber core, resulting in growth of the lens during development. Thus, lens fiber differentiation is spatially regulated and the equator functions as a platform that regulates the switch from cell proliferation to cell differentiation. Since the 1970s, the mechanism underlying lens fiber cell differentiation has been intensively studied, and several regulatory factors that regulate lens fiber cell differentiation have been identified. In this review, we focus on the lens equator, where these regulatory factors crosstalk and cooperate to regulate lens fiber differentiation. Normally, lens epithelial cells must pass through the equator to start lens fiber differentiation. However, there are reports that when the lens epithelium structure is collapsed, lens fiber cell differentiation occurs without passing the equator. We also discuss a possible mechanism that represses lens fiber cell differentiation in lens epithelium.

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