Duplicated genes with split functions: Independent roles of protocadherin 15 orthologues in zebrafish hearing and vision

Christoph Seiler, Karin C. Finger-Baier, Oliver Rinner, Yuri V. Makhankov, Heinz Schwarz, Stephan C.F. Neuhauss, Teresa Nicolson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


In the sensory receptors of both the eye and the ear, specialized apical structures have evolved to detect environmental stimuli such as light and sound. Despite the morphological divergence of these specialized structures and differing transduction mechanisms, the receptors appear to rely in part on a shared group of genes for function. For example, mutations in Usher (USH) genes cause a syndrome of visual and acoustic-vestibular deficits in humans. Several of the affected genes have been identified, including the USH1F gene, which encodes protocadherin 15 (PCDH15). Pcdh15 mutant mice also have both auditory and vestibular defects, although visual defects are not evident. Here we show that zebrafish have two closely related pcdh15 genes that are required for receptor-cell function and morphology in the eye or ear. Mutations in pcdh15a cause deafness and vestibular dysfunction, presumably because hair bundles of inner-ear receptors are splayed. Vision, however, is not affected in pcdh15a mutants. By contrast, reduction of pcdh15b activity using antisense morpholino oligonucleotides causes a visual defect. Optokinetic and electroretinogram responses are reduced in pcdh15b morpholino-injected larvae. In electron micrographs, morphant photoreceptor outer segments are improperly arranged, positioned perpendicular to the retinal pigment epithelium and are clumped together. Our results suggest that both cadherins act within their respective transduction organelles: Pcdh15a is necessary for integrity of the stereociliary bundle, whereas Pcdh15b is required for alignment and interdigitation of photoreceptor outer segments with the pigment epithelium. We conclude that after a duplication of pcdh15, one gene retained an essential function in the ear and the other in the eye.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)615-623
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Blindness
  • Deafness
  • Gene duplication
  • Hair cell
  • Outer segment
  • Photoreceptor
  • Protocadherin 15
  • Stereocilia
  • Zebrafish
  • orbiter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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