Wnt2b inhibits differentiation of retinal progenitor cells in the absence of Notch activity by downregulating the expression of proneural genes.
During the development of the central nervous system, cell proliferation and differentiation are precisely regulated. In the vertebrate eye, progenitor cells located in the marginal-most region of the neural retina continue to proliferate for a much longer period compared to the ones in the central retina, thus showing stem-cell-like properties. Wnt2b is expressed in the anterior rim of the optic vesicles, and has been shown to control differentiation of the progenitor cells in the marginal retina. In this paper, we show that stable overexpression of Wnt2b in retinal explants inhibited cellular differentiation and induced continuous growth of the tissue. Notably, Wnt2b maintained the undifferentiated progenitor cells in the explants even under the conditions where Notch signaling was blocked. Wnt2b downregulated the expression of multiple proneural bHLH genes as well as Notch. In addition, expression of Cath5 under the control of an exogenous promoter suppressed the negative effect of Wnt2b on neuronal differentiation. Importantly, Wnt2b inhibited neuronal differentiation independently of cell cycle progression. We propose that Wnt2b maintains the naive state of marginal progenitor cells by attenuating the expression of both proneural and neurogenic genes, thus preventing those cells from launching out into the differentiation cascade regulated by proneural genes and Notch.