Reinvestigation of the role of the optic vesicle in embryonic lens induction

R. M. Grainger, J. J. Henry, R. A. Henderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The induction of the lens by the optic vesicle in amphibians is often cited as support for the view that a single inductive event can lead to determination in a multipotent tissue. This conclusion is based on transplantation experiments whose results indicate that many regions of embryonic ectoderm which would normally form epidermis can form a lens if brought into contact with the optic vesicle. Although additional evidence argues that during normal development other tissues, acting before the optic vesicle, also contribute to lens induction, it is still widely held, on the basis of these transplantation experiments, that the optic vesicle alone can elicit lens formation in ectoderm. While testing this conclusion by transplanting optic vesicles beneath ventral ectoderm in Xenopus laevis embryos, it became apparent that contamination of optic vesicles by presumptive lens ectoderm cells can generate lenses in these experiments, illustrating the need for adequate host and donor marking procedures. Since previous studies rarely used host and donor marking, it was not clear whether they actually demonstrated that the optic vesicle can induce lenses. Using careful host and donor marking procedures with horseradish peroxidase as a lineage tracer, we show that the optic vesicle cannot stimulate lens formation in neurula- or gastrula-stage ectoderm of Xenopus laevis. Since the general conclusion that the optic vesicle is sufficient for lens induction rests on studies in many organisms, we felt it was important to begin to test this conclusion in other amphibians as well. Similar experiments were therefore performed with Rana palustris embryos, since it was in this organism that optic vesicle transplant studies had originally argued that this tissue alone can cause lens induction. Under conditions similar to those used in the original report, but with careful controls to assess the origin of lenses in transplants, we found that the optic vesicle alone cannot elicit lens formation. Our data lead us to propose that the optic vesicle in amphibians is not generally sufficient for lens induction. Instead, we argue that lens induction occurs by a multistep process in which an essential phase in lens determination occurs as a result of inductive interactions preceding contact of ectoderm with the optic vesicle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-526
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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