In the nervous system, neuronal migration and axonal growth are dependent on specific interactions with extracellular matrix proteins. During development of the vertebrate retina, ganglion cell axons extend along the internal limiting (basement) membrane and form the optic nerve. Laminin, a major component of basement membranes, is known to be present in the internal limiting membrane, and might be involved in the growth of ganglion cell axons. The identity of the cells that produce retinal laminin, however, has not been established. In the present study, we have used in situ hybridization to localize the sites of laminin B1 mRNA synthesis in the developing mouse retina. Our results show that there are at least two principal sites of laminin B1 mRNA synthesis: (a) the hyaloid vessels and the lens during the period of major axonal outgrowth, and (b) the retinal ganglion cells at later development stages. Müller (glial) cells, the major class of nonneuronal cells in the retina, do not appear to express laminin B1 mRNA either during development or in the adult retina. In Northern blots, we found a single transcript of approximately 6-kb size that encodes the laminin B1 chain in the retina. Moreover, laminin B1 mRNA level was four- to fivefold higher in the postnatal retina compared to that in the adult. Our results show that in addition to nonneuronal cells, retinal ganglion cells also synthesize laminin. The function of laminin in postnatal retinas, however, remains to be elucidated. Nevertheless, our findings raise the possibility that neurons in other parts of the nervous system might also synthesize extracellular matrix proteins.

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