Role of transcription factor Pax6 in the development of the ventral lateral geniculate nucleus
The development of the diencephalon can be summarised as a process in which cells that initially appear similar give rise to a complex structure that contains a variety of cell groups called nuclei. It involves two stages: the early patterning of the diencephalic prosomeres and the later formation of the individual nuclei. It has been shown that transcription factors and morphogens regulate the first stage but their further effects on the second stage remain unclear. The ventral lateral geniculate nucleus (vLGN) is involved in the visual system and is shown to have complex origins from the thalamus, the zona limitans intrathalamica (ZLI) and the prethalamus. The transcription factor Pax6 is involved in the development of brain structures including the cortex, the diencephalon and the major axonal tracts in the forebrain by playing a multifaceted role in patterning, proliferation, differentiation, migration and axon guidance. It is known that Pax6 is essential in setting up the prosomeric boundaries in the developing diencephalon but its role in the formation of individual nuclei has not yet been explored. By using a conditional Pax6 knock-out mouse driven by Zic4Cre with a green fluorescent protein (GFP) reporter showing the Cre activity, the formation of the thalamic nuclei vLGN, dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) and VP (ventral posterior nuclei) was examined in postnatal day 0 (P0) Pax6+/+, Pax6fl/+ and Pax6fl/fl pups. Using this mouse model, I found an increase in nuclear volume at the rostral level and a global decrease in cell density in the P0 Pax6fl/fl vLGN, whereas in the dLGN an increase of GFP+ve cell proportion was observed. In Pax6fl/+, I found an increase in GFP+ve cell proportion in the caudal part of the vLGN and across the dLGN. No significant change was observed in the VP in either the Pax6fl/+ or the Pax6fl/fl. The defects in the vLGN and dLGN could be caused by: 1. disruption of the expression of patterning factors such as Shh and Nkx2.2; 2. cell proliferation defcts and abnormal apoptosis; 3. ocular developmental defects; 4. failure in cell sorting/migration; 5. cell fate change. During my PhD, I tested the first three theories and explored the fourth but was not able to pursue the last due to the time limit of the project. To test the hypothesized mechanisms underlying those defects seen in the vLGN and dLGN, I performed BrdU labelling to study the time origin of cells that contribute to these two nuclei and discovered that E11.5 and E12.5 are the main ages when these cells and the GFP+ve subpopulation are born. Then I carried out experiments to examine the cell proliferation and cell apoptosis in the thalamus (pTH-R, rostral part of the progenitor zone of the thalamus, and pTH-C, caudal part of the progenitor zone of the thalamus) and the prethalamus (Pth) from E11.5 to E13.5 and found: 1. the proliferation rate decreased in the pTH-R in Pax6fl/+ at E11.5; 2. the growth fraction decreased in both pTH-C and pTH-R in E12.5 Pax6fl/fl; 3. there is no change in cell proliferation in the GFP+ve subpopulation; 4. no abnormal apoptosis is observed in either the whole cell population or the GFP+ve subpopulation. Judging by the amplitude of the change in proliferation in the pTH-R and pTH-C at E11.5 and E12.5, it is unlikely that these changes alone are responsible for the phenotypes seen in P0 vLGN and dLGN. Then I examined the expression patterns of Shh and Nkx2.2 and the expansion of both was observed in Pax6fl/fl at both E12.5 and E13.5, which could explain the volume change of the vLGN but not the change in the proportion of GFP+ve subpopulation in both the vLGN and dLGN. Then I continued to examine if the ocular input from the retinal ganglionic cells are severely affected by the deletion of Pax6 and found no gross change in the conditional mutants, which rejected the ocular developmental defects theory. At the end of my PhD, I performed a BrdU short-term survival experiment and a brain slice culture combined with live imaging experiment to explore the possibility of abnormal cell migration causing the vLGN and dLGN phenotypes and found that the cells moving along the border of the thalamus and prethalamus move faster in the Pax6fl/fl than in the Pax6fl/+, but rather than moving directly toward the lateral surface of the diencephalon, they take a detour. These findings indicate that the deletion of Pax6 causes minor changes in the proliferation of E11.5 to E13.5 diencephalon and expansion of regional marker expression such as Shh and Nkx2.2, which could potenially affect the volume and change the proportion of GFP+ve cells in P0 vLGN and dLGN. Migration defects caused by Pax6 could also contribute to the phenotype observed in those two nuclei. Potential cell fate change caused by Pax6 deletion could be another factor that contributes to the defects in the conditional mutants. More work needs to be done to test the migration defect and cell fate change hypotheses in future.