Jensen, Abigail

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Associate Professor, Department of Biology
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Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Vertebrate
Retinal Development and Retinal Disease
Our laboratory is studying the molecular and cellular mechanisms of vertebrate retinal development and retinal disease.
Our efforts at understanding retinal development address two fundamental questions: (1) How are different retinal cell types generated? (2) How are those cells organized into a functional tissue? Early in development, the retina consists of a seemingly homogenous population of multipotential progenitor cells. Later, this population generates many different cell types that are organized into specific cell layers and finally functional connections are made. We use zebrafish, which is a good model system for human retinal development; they have the same cell types and cells are organized in the same way. We are using genetics in zebrafish to identify genes that regulate the proliferation, differentiation, survival, and organization of retinal cells.
The current focus of our lab is to understand the role of cell polarity in organization of the retina during development, and how loss of polarity can lead to degenerative retinal disease. We are examining the role of a novel gene we identified, called mosaic eyes (moe), which plays a role in polarity. When this gene is mutated in zebrafish, the layers in the retina fail to form even though all the cell types that normally comprise the retina are present. We are using biochemistry and molecular and cell biological approaches to understand how moe and other molecules involved in establishing cell polarity regulate layer formation and cell polarity during development. We are also examining the role of moe in photoreceptor morphogenesis and photoreceptor degeneration.

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Now showing 1 - 2 of 2
  • Publication
    Tissue-specific requirements for specific domains in the FERM protein Moe/Epb4.1l5 during early zebrafish development
    (2008-01-01) Christensen, Arne K.; Jensen, Abigail
    Background The FERM domain containing protein Mosaic Eyes (Moe) interacts with Crumbs proteins, which are important regulators of apical identity and size. In zebrafish, loss-of-function mutations in moe result in defects in brain ventricle formation, retinal pigmented epithelium and neural retinal development, pericardial edema, and tail curvature. In humans and mice, there are two major alternately spliced isoforms of the Moe orthologue, Erythrocyte Protein Band 4.1-Like 5 (Epb4.1l5), which we have named Epb4.1l5long and Epb4.1l5short, that differ after the FERM domain. Interestingly, Moe and both Epb4.1l5 isoforms have a putative C' terminal Type-I PDZ-Binding Domain (PBD). We previously showed that the N' terminal FERM domain in Moe directly mediates interactions with Crumbs proteins and Nagie oko (Nok) in zebrafish, but the function of the C'terminal half of Moe/Epb4.1l5 has not yet been examined. Results To define functionally important domains in zebrafish Moe and murine Epb4.1l5, we tested whether injection of mRNAs encoding these proteins could rescue defects in zebrafish moe- embryos. Injection of either moe or epb4.1l5long mRNA, but not epb4.1l5short mRNA, could rescue moe- embryonic defects. We also tested whether mRNA encoding C' terminal truncations of Epb4.1l5long or chimeric constructs with reciprocal swaps of the isoform-specific PBDs could rescue moe- defects. We found that injection of the Epb4.1l5short chimera (Epb4.1l5short+long_PBD), containing the PBD from Epb4.1l5long, could rescue retinal and RPE defects in moe- mutants, but not brain ventricle formation. Injection of the Epb4.1l5long chimera (Epb4.1l5long+short_PBD), containing the PBD from Epb4.1l5short, rescued retinal defects, and to a large extent rescued RPE integrity. The only construct that caused a dominant phenotype in wild-type embryos, was Epb4.1l5long+short_PBD, which caused brain ventricle defects and edema that were similar to those observed in moe- mutants. Lastly, the morphology of rod photoreceptors in moe- mutants where embryonic defects were rescued by moe or epb4.1l5long mRNA injection is abnormal and their outer segments are larger than normal. Conclusion Taken together, the data reveal tissue specificity for the function of the PBD in Epb4.1l5long, and suggest that additional C' terminal sequences are important for zebrafish retinal development. Additionally, our data provide further evidence that Moe is a negative regulator of rod outer segment size.
  • Publication
    Multiple domains in the Crumbs Homolog 2a (Crb2a) protein are required for regulating rod photoreceptor size
    (2010-01-01) Jensen, Abigail; Hsu, Ya-Chu
    Background Vertebrate retinal photoreceptors are morphologically complex cells that have two apical regions, the inner segment and the outer segment. The outer segment is a modified cilium and is continuously regenerated throughout life. The molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie vertebrate photoreceptor morphogenesis and the maintenance of the outer segment are largely unknown. The Crumbs (Crb) complex is a key regulator of apical membrane identity and size in epithelia and in Drosophila photoreceptors. Mutations in the human gene CRUMBS HOMOLOG 1 (CRB1) are associated with early and severe vision loss. Drosophila Crumbs and vertebrate Crb1 and Crumbs homolog 2 (Crb2) proteins are structurally similar, all are single pass transmembrane proteins with a large extracellular domain containing multiple laminin- and EGF-like repeats and a small intracellular domain containing a FERM-binding domain and a PDZ-binding domain. In order to begin to understand the role of the Crb family of proteins in vertebrate photoreceptors we generated stable transgenic zebrafish in which rod photoreceptors overexpress full-length Crb2a protein and several other Crb2a constructs engineered to lack specific domains. Results We examined the localization of Crb2a constructs and their effects on rod morphology. We found that only the full-length Crb2a protein approximated the normal localization of Crb2a protein apical to adherens junctions in the photoreceptor inner segment. Several Crb2a construct proteins localized abnormally to the outer segment and one construct localized abnormally to the cell body. Overexpression of full-length Crb2a greatly increased inner segment size while expression of several other constructs increased outer segment size. Conclusions Our observations suggest that particular domains in Crb2a regulate its localization and thus may regulate its regionalized function. Our results also suggest that the PDZ-binding domain in Crb2a might bring a protein(s) into the Crb complex that alters the function of the FERM-binding domain.