PURPOSE. The large Forkhead (Fox) transcription factor family has essential roles in development, and mutations cause a wide range of ocular and nonocular disease. One member, Foxc2 is expressed in neural crest (NC)-derived periocular mesenchymal cells of the developing murine eye; however, its precise role in the development, establishment, and maintenance of the ocular surface has yet to be investigated. METHODS. To specifically delete Foxc2 from NC-derived cells, conditional knockout mice for Foxc2 (NC-Foxc2-/-) were generated by crossing Foxc2F mice with Wnt1-Cre mice. Similarly, we also generated compound NC-specific mutations of Foxc2 and a closely related gene, Foxc1 (NC-Foxc1-/-;NC-Foxc2-/-) in mice. RESULTS. Neural crest-Foxc2-/- mice show abnormal thickness in the peripheral-to-central corneal stroma and limbus and displaced pupils with irregular iris. The neural crest-specific mutation in Foxc2 also leads to ectopic neovascularization in the cornea, as well as impaired ocular epithelial cell identity and corneal conjunctivalization. Compound, NC-specific Foxc1; Foxc2 homozygous mutant mice have more severe defects in structures of the ocular surface, such as the cornea and eyelids, accompanied by significant declines in the expression of another key developmental factor, Pitx2, and its downstream effector Dkk2, which antagonizes canonical Wnt signaling. CONCLUSIONS. The neural crest-Foxc2 mutation is associated with corneal conjunctivalization, ectopic corneal neovascularization, and disrupted ocular epithelial cell identity. Furthermore, Foxc2 and Foxc1 cooperatively function in NC-derived mesenchymal cells to ensure proper morphogenesis of the ocular surface via the regulation of Wnt signaling. Together, Foxc2 is required in the NC lineage for mesenchymal-epithelial interactions in corneal and ocular surface development.
- Corneal development
- Neural crest
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sensory Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience