Sox11 Is Required to Maintain Proper Levels of Hedgehog Signaling during Vertebrate Ocular Morphogenesis

Lakshmi Pillai-Kastoori, Wen Wen, Stephen G. Wilson, Erin Strachan, Adriana Lo-Castro, Marco Fichera, Sebastiano A. Musumeci, Ordan J. Lehmann, Ann C. Morris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Ocular coloboma is a sight-threatening malformation caused by failure of the choroid fissure to close during morphogenesis of the eye, and is frequently associated with additional anomalies, including microphthalmia and cataracts. Although Hedgehog signaling is known to play a critical role in choroid fissure closure, genetic regulation of this pathway remains poorly understood. Here, we show that the transcription factor Sox11 is required to maintain specific levels of Hedgehog signaling during ocular development. Sox11-deficient zebrafish embryos displayed delayed and abnormal lens formation, coloboma, and a specific reduction in rod photoreceptors, all of which could be rescued by treatment with the Hedgehog pathway inhibitor cyclopamine. We further demonstrate that the elevated Hedgehog signaling in Sox11-deficient zebrafish was caused by a large increase in shha transcription; indeed, suppressing Shha expression rescued the ocular phenotypes of sox11 morphants. Conversely, over-expression of sox11 induced cyclopia, a phenotype consistent with reduced levels of Sonic hedgehog. We screened DNA samples from 79 patients with microphthalmia, anophthalmia, or coloboma (MAC) and identified two novel heterozygous SOX11 variants in individuals with coloboma. In contrast to wild type human SOX11 mRNA, mRNA containing either variant failed to rescue the lens and coloboma phenotypes of Sox11-deficient zebrafish, and both exhibited significantly reduced transactivation ability in a luciferase reporter assay. Moreover, decreased gene dosage from a segmental deletion encompassing the SOX11 locus resulted in microphthalmia and related ocular phenotypes. Therefore, our study reveals a novel role for Sox11 in controlling Hedgehog signaling, and suggests that SOX11 variants contribute to pediatric eye disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1004491
JournalPLoS Genetics
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Cancer Research


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