Rod and cone photoreceptors in the mammalian retina are special types of neurons that are responsible for phototransduction, the first step of vision. Development and maintenance of photoreceptors require precisely regulated gene expression. This regulation is mediated by a network of photoreceptor transcription factors centered on Crx, an Otx-like homeodomain transcription factor. The cell type (subtype) specificity of this network is governed by factors that are preferentially expressed by rods or cones or both, including the rod-determining factors neural retina leucine zipper protein (Nrl) and the orphan nuclear receptor Nr2e3; and cone-determining factors, mostly nuclear receptor family members. The best-documented of these include thyroid hormone receptor β2 (Trβ2), retinoid related orphan receptor Rorβ, and retinoid X receptor Rxrγ. The appropriate function of this network also depends on general transcription factors and cofactors that are ubiquitously expressed, such as the Sp zinc finger transcription factors and STAGA co-activator complexes. These cell type-specific and general transcription regulators form complex interactomes; mutations that interfere with any of the interactions can cause photoreceptor development defects or degeneration. In this manuscript, we review recent progress on the roles of various photoreceptor transcription factors and interactions in photoreceptor subtype development. We also provide evidence of auto-, para-, and feedback regulation among these factors at the transcriptional level. These protein-protein and protein-promoter interactions provide precision and specificity in controlling photoreceptor subtype-specific gene expression, development, and survival. Understanding these interactions may provide insights to more effective therapeutic interventions for photoreceptor diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-133
Number of pages20
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - Feb 4 2008


  • Cone and rod photoreceptor
  • Crx
  • Homeodomain
  • Nuclear receptor
  • Retina development
  • Transcription factor network


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