The rax homeobox gene is mutated in the eyeless axolotl, Ambystoma mexicanum

Erik S. Davis, Gareth Voss, Joel B. Miesfeld, Juan Zarate-Sanchez, S. Randal Voss, Tom Glaser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Vertebrate eye formation requires coordinated inductive interactions between different embryonic tissue layers, first described in amphibians. A network of transcription factors and signaling molecules controls these steps, with mutations causing severe ocular, neuronal, and craniofacial defects. In eyeless mutant axolotls, eye morphogenesis arrests at the optic vesicle stage, before lens induction, and development of ventral forebrain structures is disrupted. Results: We identified a 5-bp deletion in the rax (retina and anterior neural fold homeobox) gene, which was tightly linked to the recessive eyeless (e) axolotl locus in an F2 cross. This frameshift mutation, in exon 2, truncates RAX protein within the homeodomain (P154fs35X). Quantitative RNA analysis shows that mutant and wild-type rax transcripts are equally abundant in E/e embryos. Translation appears to initiate from dual start codons, via leaky ribosome scanning, a conserved feature among gnathostome RAX proteins. Previous data show rax is expressed in the optic vesicle and diencephalon, deeply conserved among metazoans, and required for eye formation in other species. Conclusion: The eyeless axolotl mutation is a null allele in the rax homeobox gene, with primary defects in neural ectoderm, including the retinal and hypothalamic primordia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-821
Number of pages15
JournalDevelopmental Dynamics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Wiley Periodicals LLC


  • Ambystoma
  • Rax
  • Rx
  • anophthalmia
  • eye morphogenesis
  • genetics
  • homeodomain
  • hypothalamus
  • leaky scanning
  • lens induction
  • mutation
  • optic vesicle
  • pituitary
  • ribosome
  • salamander
  • transcription factor
  • urodele

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology


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