The intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate vertebrate photoreceptor specification and differentiation are complex, and our understanding of all the players is far from complete. Her9, the zebrafish ortholog of human HES4, is a basic helix-loop-helix-orange transcriptional repressor that regulates neurogenesis in several developmental contexts. We have previously shown that her9 is upregulated during chronic rod photoreceptor degeneration and regeneration in adult zebrafish, but little is known about the role of her9 during retinal development. To better understand the function of Her9 in the retina, we generated zebrafish her9 CRISPR mutants. Her9 homozygous mutants displayed striking retinal phenotypes, including decreased numbers of rods and red/green cones, whereas blue and UV cones were relatively unaffected. The reduction in rods and red/green cones correlated with defects in photoreceptor subtype lineage specification. The remaining rods and double cones displayed abnormal outer segments, and elevated levels of apoptosis. In addition to the photoreceptor defects, her9 mutants also possessed a reduced proliferative ciliary marginal zone, and decreased and disorganized Müller glia. Mutation of her9 was larval lethal, with no mutants surviving past 13 days post fertilization. Our results reveal a previously undescribed role for Her9/Hes4 in photoreceptor differentiation, maintenance, and survival.

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Published in Scientific Reports, v. 10, issue 1, article no. 11316.

© The Author(s) 2020

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This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health (R01EY021769, to A.C.M.) and the University of Kentucky Lyman T. Johnson graduate fellowship (to C.E.C).

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