Purpose: Vision is critically dependent on ocular size, which is regulated by environmental and genetic factors. Mutation
of human Growth and Differentiation Factor 6 (GDF6) or zebrafish gdf6a results in a spectrum of small eye phenotypes (microphthalmia, anophthalmia and coloboma), however current models do not
fully explain their etiology. As such, analyses of apoptosis and cell cycle regulation were undertaken in a zebrafish gdf6a mutant.
Methods: Microarray analysis was performed at 2 days post fertilization to uncover novel gdf6a dependent cell cycle regulators. Altered expression of Gdf6a targets was confirmed by in situ hybridization, and resulting
changes in cell proliferation were assessed by Phosphohistone H3 immunohistochemistry. Analysis of apoptosis was evaluated
through activated Caspase 3 immunohistochemistry and chemical inhibitors of cell death.
Results: Reduced numbers of retinal progenitor cells are observed at 24 hpf, resulting in microphthalmic eyes in gdf6a-/- embryos. At 28 hpf, a wave of apoptosis occurs, however apoptosis inhibition does not rescue eye size indicating a limited
contribution. Mutants display altered proliferation and expression levels of cell cycle regulators, including members of the
forkhead box i (foxi) transcription factor family expressed in the ciliary marginal zone. Notably, inhibition of foxi2 in in gdf6a-/- embryos further reduces eye size.
Conclusions: These data support a model whereby the gdf6a-/- induced microphthalmia is based on early regulation of retinal progenitor cell number, and later by regulation of proliferation
in the ciliary marginal zone. Foxi genes represent downstream effectors of Gdf6a function in the CMZ required for eye size determination.