Chimaeric mice were made by aggregating Pax6(−/−) and wild-type mouse embryos, in order to study the interaction between the optic vesicle and the prospective lens epithelium during early stages of eye development. Histological analysis of the distribution of homozygous mutant cells in the chimaeras showed that the cell-autonomous removal of Pax6(−/−) cells from the lens, shown previously at E12.5, is nearly complete by E9.5. Most mutant cells are eliminated from an area of facial epithelium wider than, but including, the developing lens placode. This result suggests a role for Pax6 in maintaining a region of the facial epithelium that has the tissue competence to undergo lens differentiation. Segregation of wild-type and Pax6(−/−) cells occurs in the optic vesicle at E9.5 and is most likely a result of different adhesive properties of wild-type and mutant cells. Also, proximo-distal specification of the optic vesicle (as assayed by the elimination of Pax6(−/−) cells distally), is disrupted in the presence of a high proportion of mutant cells. This suggests that Pax6 operates during the establishment of patterning along the proximo-distal axis of the vesicle. Examination of chimaeras with a high proportion of mutant cells showed that Pax6 is required in the optic vesicle for maintenance of contact with the overlying lens epithelium. This may explain why Pax6(−/−) optic vesicles are inefficient at inducing a lens placode. Contact is preferentially maintained when the lens epithelium is also wild-type. Together, these results demonstrate requirements for functional Pax6 in both the optic vesicle and surface epithelia in order to mediate the interactions between the two tissues during the earliest stages of eye development.

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