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Role of Barhl2 in the specification of glycinergic amacrine cells. The mammalian retina contains numerous morphological and physiological subtypes of amacrine cells necessary for integrating and modulating visual signals presented to the output neurons. Among subtypes of amacrine cells grouped by neurotransmitter phenotypes, the glycinergic and GABAergic amacrine cells constitute two major subpopulations. To date, the molecular mechanisms governing the specification of subtype identity of amacrine cells remain elusive. We have found that during mouse development, the Barhl2 homeobox gene displays an expression pattern in the nervous system that is distinct from that of its homologue Barhl1. In the developing retina, Barhl2 expression is found in postmitotic amacrine, horizontal and ganglion cells while Barhl1 expression is absent. Forced expression of Barhl2 in retinal progenitors promotes the differentiation of glycinergic amacrine cells whereas a dominant-negative form of Barhl2 has the opposite effect. By contrast, they exert no effect on the formation of GABAergic neurons. Moreover, misexpressed Barhl2 inhibits the formation of bipolar and Müller glial cells, indicating that Barhl2 is able to function both as a positive and negative regulator depending on different types of cells. Taken together, our data suggest that Barhl2 may function to specify the identity of glycinergic amacrine cells from competent progenitors during retinogenesis.

Forced Barhl2 expression promotes the differentiation of glycinergic but not GABAergic amacrine cells. Development 131:1607-1618 (2004)

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