January 12, 2021
Cross-section of a mouse eye, stained in pink and brown

Adult mouse eye morphology. Image credit: Ting Xie Lab

What if the degenerative eye conditions that lead to glaucoma, corneal dystrophy, and cataracts could be detected and treated before vision is impaired? Recent findings from the lab of Investigator Ting Xie, PhD, at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research point to the ciliary body as a key to unlocking this possibility.

Previous work from the lab showed that when mouse stem cells were differentiated into light-sensing photoreceptor cells in vitro, and then transplanted back into mice with a degenerative condition of the retina, they could partially restore vision. However, the transplanted photoreceptors only lasted three to four months.

To this end, Xie’s group began to study the eye tissue microenvironment, specifically a specialized tissue in the eye called the ciliary body. In a paper published in Cell Reports on January 12, 2021, the team describes a signaling pathway wherein Notch and Nectin proteins in the ciliary body function in the development and maintenance of eye tissue and structure.

“We propose the ciliary body could be a niche for the eye tissues,” explains Xie, in the sense that it can behave like a stem cell niche, by providing signals that affect cellular morphogenesis and function.