Foxn4 is a temporal identity factor conferring mid/late-early retinal competence and involved in retinal synaptogenesis. uri icon


  • During development, neural progenitors change their competence states over time to sequentially generate different types of neurons and glia. Several cascades of temporal transcription factors (tTFs) have been discovered in Drosophila to control the temporal identity of neuroblasts, but the temporal regulation mechanism is poorly understood in vertebrates. Mammalian retinal progenitor cells (RPCs) give rise to several types of neuronal and glial cells following a sequential yet overlapping temporal order. Here, by temporal cluster analysis, RNA-sequencing analysis, and loss-of-function and gain-of-function studies, we show that the Fox domain TF Foxn4 functions as a tTF during retinogenesis to confer RPCs with the competence to generate the mid/late-early cell types: amacrine, horizontal, cone, and rod cells, while suppressing the competence of generating the immediate-early cell type: retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). In early embryonic retinas, Foxn4 inactivation causes down-regulation of photoreceptor marker genes and decreased photoreceptor generation but increased RGC production, whereas its overexpression has the opposite effect. Just as in Drosophila, Foxn4 appears to positively regulate its downstream tTF Casz1 while negatively regulating its upstream tTF Ikzf1. Moreover, retina-specific ablation of Foxn4 reveals that it may be indirectly involved in the synaptogenesis, establishment of laminar structure, visual signal transmission, and long-term maintenance of the retina. Together, our data provide evidence that Foxn4 acts as a tTF to bias RPCs toward the mid/late-early cell fates and identify a missing member of the tTF cascade that controls RPC temporal identities to ensure the generation of proper neuronal diversity in the retina.

publication date

  • March 3, 2020