The development of the embryonic lens is dependent on the formation and regression of the tunica vasculosa lentis (TVL), which is a transiently occurring capillary plexus that surrounds the posterior part of the lens. In this study by using the terminal deoxy-nucleotidyl transferase mediated nick end-labelling technique (TUNEL), electron microscopy, radioactive end-labelling of DNA extracted from TVL, and the Comet assay, we show that widespread apoptosis of the endothelial cells that constitute the TVL is occurring already at embryonic day 17.5 (E17.5) of mouse development, much earlier than was reported previously (Jack [1972a] Am. J. Ophthalmol. 74:261-272; Lang  Cell Death Diff. 4:12-20). In addition to apoptotic cell death, regression of this structure is associated with loss of capillary integrity, leakage of erythrocytes into the vitreal compartment, and phagocytosis of the apoptotic endothelium by tissue macrophages (hyalocytes). In situ hybridization experiments with probes for the flk-1 receptor and its high-affinity ligand, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF; Terman et al.  Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 187:1579-1586; Millauer et al.  Cell 72:835-846), revealed strong endothelial cell expression for flk-1 in the eyes of E13.5-E17.5 embryos. VEGF mRNA was detected in lens epithelial cells located at the posterior pole of the developing lens in E13.5 embryos, in close proximity to the TVL capillaries. At later times (E14.5-E17.5), when the lens epithelial cells have differentiated into primary lens fiber cells, and a thick lenticular capsule is formed, the expression of VEGF mRNA becomes restricted to the anterior and equatorial portions of the lens. The physical separation of the VEGF-producing cells from the flk-1-expressing endothelium (due to the differentiation of the lens epithelial cells into lens fiber cells and the formation of the lenticular capsule) may deprive the endothelium of an essential survival factor and, thus, may constitute the primary mechanism that is responsible for the induction of endothelial cell apoptosis in this model. Dev. Dyn. 1998;213:322-333. (C) 1998 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
|Publication status||Published - Nov 1998|