Research Focus: The molecular regulation of ocular neural crest development in zebrafish
Congenital eye anomalies are an important cause of childhood blindness. Malformations of the cornea, iris, and iridocorneal angle of the eye comprise a group of abnormalities that are referred to as anterior segment dysgeneses and include diseases such as primary congenital glaucoma, aniridia, Peter’s Anomaly, and Axenfeld-Rieger Syndrome. These children can have severe glaucoma, and visual impairment is due to a combination of optic nerve damage, high myopia, irregular astigmatism, and corneal opacification. Despite surgical intervention, many children with these diseases can become blind.
In the laboratory of Dr. Brenda Bohnsack, we study the genes that regulate the development of the anterior segment of the eye. Many of the structures in the anterior segment of the eye are derived from the neural crest, a transient population of embryonic stem cells. We are specifically interested in identifying and studying genes that regulate ocular neural crest migration, proliferation, and differentiation.
We use zebrafish as a model system to study ocular neural crest development. The structures of the zebrafish eye are similar to their mammalian counterparts and many genes are evolutionarily conserved between zebrafish and mammals. Zebrafish embryos are transparent and develop outside of the mother’s body allowing us to visualize development as it occurs in real-time. Together with molecular and cellular biology techniques, we characterize genes and their downstream targets in the ocular neural crest.
By gaining insight into the genetic regulation of normal eye development, we aim to understand the pathogenesis of congenital eye diseases. This information may lead to breakthroughs in genetic testing and new therapeutic approaches to preventing blindness in affected children.
View Dr. Bohnsack's Michigan Experts research profile