Dystroglycan (DG) is a transmembrane receptor linking the extracellular matrix to the internal cytoskeleton. Its structural function has been mainly characterized in muscle fibers, but DG plays signaling and developmental roles also in different tissues and cell types. We have investigated the effects of dystroglycan depletion during eye development of Xenopus laevis. We have injected a specific morpholino (Mo) antisense oligonucleotide in the animal pole of one dorsal blastomere of embryos at four cells stage. Mo-mediated loss of DG function caused disruption of the basal lamina layers, increased apoptosis and reduction of the expression domains of specific retinal markers, at early stages. Later in development, morphants displayed unilateral ocular malformations, such as microphtalmia and retinal delayering with photoreceptors and ganglion cells scattered throughout the retina or aggregated in rosette-like structures. These results recall the phenotypes observed in specific human diseases and suggest that DG presence is crucial at early stages for the organization of retinal architecture.
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