Dual roles of the retinal pigment epithelium and lens in cavefish eye degeneration. uri icon


  • Astyanax mexicanus consists of two forms, a sighted surface dwelling form (surface fish) and a blind cave-dwelling form (cavefish). Embryonic eyes are initially formed in cavefish but they are subsequently arrested in growth and degenerate during larval development. Previous lens transplantation studies have shown that the lens plays a central role in cavefish eye loss. However, several lines of evidence suggest that additional factors, such as the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), which is morphologically altered in cavefish, could also be involved in the eye regression process. To explore the role of the RPE in cavefish eye degeneration, we generated an albino eyed (AE) strain by artificial selection for hybrid individuals with large eyes and a depigmented RPE. The AE strain exhibited an RPE lacking pigment granules and showed reduced expression of the RPE specific enzyme retinol isomerase, allowing eye development to be studied by lens ablation in an RPE background resembling cavefish. We found that lens ablation in the AE strain had stronger negative effects on eye growth than in surface fish, suggesting that an intact RPE is required for normal eye development. We also found that the AE strain develops a cartilaginous sclera lacking boney ossicles, a trait similar to cavefish. Extrapolation of the results to cavefish suggests that the RPE and lens have dual roles in eye degeneration, and that deficiencies in the RPE may be associated with evolutionary changes in scleral ossification.

publication date

  • November 2020