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Cytoskeleton proteins previously considered exclusive to Ganglion Cells are transiently expressed by all retinal neuronal precursors

Christian Gutierrez, Minda McNally and M Valeria Canto-Soler*

Author Affiliations

Wilmer Eye Institute, Department of Ophthalmology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 400 N Broadway, Baltimore, MD USA

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BMC Developmental Biology 2011, 11:46  doi:10.1186/1471-213X-11-46

Published: 22 July 2011



Understanding the mechanisms governing cell fate specification remains one of the main challenges in the study of retinal development. In this context, molecular markers that identify specific cell types become crucial tools for the analysis and interpretation of these phenomena. In studies using the developing chick retina, expression of the mid-size neurofilament (NF-M) and a chick-specific microtubule associated protein recognized by the RA4 antibody (MAP(RA4)), have been broadly used to selectively identify ganglion cells and their committed precursors. However, observations in our laboratory suggested that the expression of these proteins may not be restricted to cells of the ganglion cell lineage. Because of its potential significance in the field, we pursued a detailed analysis of the expression of these two molecules in combination with an array of proteins that allowed precise identification of all retinal cell-type precursors throughout the development of the chick retina.


Both, NF-M and MAP(RA4) proteins, showed a dynamic pattern of expression coincident with the progression of retinal cell differentiation. Both proteins were coexpressed spatially and temporally in postmitotic neuronal precursors throughout development. Expression of both proteins was seen in ganglion cell precursors and adult differentiated ganglion cells, but they were also transiently expressed by precursors of the photoreceptor, horizontal, bipolar and amacrine cell lineages.


We have clearly demonstrated that, contrary to the generally accepted paradigm, expression of NF-M and MAP(RA4) proteins is not exclusive to ganglion cells. Rather, both proteins are transiently expressed by all neuronal retinal progenitors in a developmentally-regulated manner. In addition, MAP(RA4) and NF-M are the first molecules so far characterized that may allow unambiguous identification of postmitotic precursors from the pool of mitotically active progenitors and/or the differentiated cell population during retinogenesis. These results are of significant impact for the field of developmental biology of the retina, since they provide novel and important information for the appropriate design and interpretation of studies on retinal cell differentiation, as well as for the reinterpretation of previously published studies.