Organogenesis of the eye is a multistep process that starts with the formation of optic vesicles followed by invagination of the distal domain of the vesicles and the overlying lens placode resulting in morphogenesis of the optic cup. The late optic vesicle becomes patterned into distinct ocular tissues: the neural retina, retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and optic stalk. Multiple congenital eye disorders, including anophthalmia or microphthalmia, aniridia, coloboma, and retinal dysplasia, stem from disruptions in embryonic eye development. Thus, it is critical to understand the mechanisms that lead to initial specification and differentiation of ocular tissues. An accumulating number of studies demonstrate that a complex interplay between inductive signals provided by tissue-tissue interactions and cell-intrinsic factors is critical to ensuring proper specification of ocular tissues as well as maintenance of RPE cell fate. While several of the extrinsic and intrinsic determinants have been identified, we are just at the beginning in understanding how these signals are integrated. In addition, we know very little about the actual output of these interactions. In this chapter, we provide an update of the mechanisms controlling the early steps of eye development in vertebrates, with emphasis on optic vesicle evagination, specification of neural retina and RPE at the optic vesicle stage, the process of invagination during morphogenesis of the optic cup, and maintenance of the RPE cell fate.
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