Through transcriptional regulations, the BarH family of homeodomain proteins play essential roles in cell fate specification, cell differentiation, migration, and survival. Barhl2, a member of the Barh gene family, is expressed in retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), amacrine cells (ACs), and horizontal cells. Here, to investigate the role of Barhl2 in retinal development, Barhl2-deficient mice were generated. Analysis of AC subtypes in Barhl2-deficient retinas suggests that Barhl2 plays a critical role in AC subtype determination. A significant reduction of glycinergic and GABAergic ACs with a substantial increase in the number of cholinergic ACs was observed in Barhl2-null retinas. Barhl2 is also critical for the development of a normal complement of RGCs. Barhl2 deficiency resulted in a 35% increase in RGCs undergoing apoptosis during development. Genetic analysis revealed that Barhl2 functions downstream of the Atoh7-Pou4f3 regulatory pathway and regulates the maturation and/or survival of RGCs. Thus, BARHL2 appears to have numerous roles in retinal development, including regulating neuronal subtype specification, differentiation, and survival.
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