PURPOSE - Little is known about the mechanisms that regulate cell cycle withdrawal of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) during development, or about the mechanisms maintaining epithelial cell quiescence in adult retinas. The present study examines the potential role of the negative cell cycle regulator p27(Kip1) in controlling RPE proliferation, using mice with targeted ablation of the p27(Kip1) gene.
METHODS - Ocular tissues were obtained from wild-type and p27(Kip1)-null mice at several postnatal ages. Following aldehyde fixation, eyes were processed intact for JB-4 histology and electron microscopy. Alternatively, tissues were removed by manual or enzymatic dissection in order to obtain flat-mounts of the RPE attached to either the choroid-sclera or neural retina, respectively. Epithelial flat-mounts were either left unlabeled, in which case melanin pigment provided internal contrast, or labeled with Alexa Fluor 488-phalloidin and propidium iodide to visualize cell boundaries and nuclei, respectively.
RESULTS - Morphometric analysis using transverse plastic sections revealed a 96% increase in nuclear density and a 12% increase in thickness (apical to basal) for mutant vs. normal epithelia at postnatal day 35 (P35). These changes were not restricted to central or peripheral regions, and were uncorrelated with focal areas of dysplasia seen in the mutant neural retina. When similar tissues were viewed as flat-mounts, an observed 100% increase in nuclear density was accompanied by only a 46% enhancement in cellular density. This resulted in a larger proportion of multinucleated cells in the nullizygous RPE as compared with the wild-type epithelium (91 versus 47%). Such a pattern was achieved relatively early in development since, at P7 when the increase in RPE nuclear density was essentially complete, cellular density was augmented by only 39%. In addition to these proliferative changes, individual epithelial cells sometimes exhibited structural abnormalities, including an altered cortical actin cytoskeleton and displacement of nuclei from their normal central position. Surprisingly, while the RPE cells of null animals were similar ultrastructurally to those of the wild-type, interdigitation of their microvillous processes with outer segments was incomplete. Quantitative analysis revealed that such areas of detachment characterize, on average, 42% of the nullizygous retina, and that there is little correlation between detachment and neural retina dysplasia from one eye to another. Together with parallel evidence demonstrating a substantial decline in the apparent adhesiveness of mutant retinas relative to the normal tissue, the data is strongly indicative of an altered epithelium-photoreceptor interaction following gene ablation.
CONCLUSIONS - The absence of a functional p27(Kip1) gene results in enhanced RPE nuclear division, without a commensurate increase in cell division. Although the mutant epithelium as a whole appears structurally normal, individual cells exhibit cytoskeletal changes and their interaction with the neural retina is compromised.