PloS one

Early lens ablation causes dramatic long-term effects on the shape of bones in the craniofacial skeleton of Astyanax mexicanus.

PMID 23226260


The Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus, exists as two morphs of a single species, a sighted surface morph and a blind cavefish. In addition to eye regression, cavefish have an increased number of taste buds, maxillary teeth and have an altered craniofacial skeleton compared to the sighted morph. We investigated the effect the lens has on the development of the surrounding skeleton, by ablating the lens at different time points during ontogeny. This unique long-term study sheds light on how early embryonic manipulations on the eye can affect the shape of the adult skull more than a year later, and the developmental window during which time these effects occur. The effects of lens ablation were analyzed by whole-mount bone staining, immunohistochemisty and landmark based morphometric analyzes. Our results indicate that lens ablation has the greatest impact on the skeleton when it is ablated at one day post fertilisation (dpf) compared to at four dpf. Morphometric analyzes indicate that there is a statistically significant difference in the shape of the supraorbital bone and suborbital bones four through six. These bones expand into the eye orbit exhibiting plasticity in their shape. Interestingly, the number of caudal teeth on the lower jaw is also affected by lens ablation. In contrast, the shape of the calvariae, the length of the mandible, and the number of mandibular taste buds are unaltered by lens removal. We demonstrate the plasticity of some craniofacial elements and the stability of others in the skull. Furthermore, this study highlights interactions present between sensory systems during early development and sheds light on the cavefish phenotype.