Although majority of the genes linked to early-onset cataract exhibit lens fiber cell-enriched expression, our understanding of gene regulation in these cells is limited to function of just eight transcription factors and largely in the context of crystallins. We report on small Maf transcription factors Mafg and Mafk as regulators of several non-crystallin human cataract-associated genes in fiber cells and establish their significance to this disease. We applied a bioinformatics tool for cataract gene discovery iSyTE to identify Mafg and its co-regulators in the lens, and generated various null-allelic combinations of Mafg:Mafk mouse mutants for phenotypic and molecular analysis. By age 4 months, Mafg−/−:Mafk+/− mutants exhibit lens defects that progressively develop into cataract. High-resolution phenotypic characterization of Mafg−/−:Mafk+/− mouse lens reveals severely disorganized fiber cells, while microarray-based expression profiling identifies 97 differentially regulated genes (DRGs). Integrative analysis of Mafg−/−:Mafk+/− lens-DRGs with (1) binding motifs and genomic targets of small Mafs and their regulatory partners, (2) iSyTE lens expression data, and (3) interactions between DRGs in the String database, unravel a detailed small Maf regulatory network in the lens, several nodes of which are linked to cataract. This approach identifies 36 high-priority candidates from the original 97 DRGs. Significantly, 8/36 (22 %) DRGs are associated with cataracts in human (GSTO1, MGST1, SC4MOL, UCHL1) or mouse (Aldh3a1, Crygf, Hspb1, Pcbd1), suggesting a multifactorial etiology that includes oxidative stress and misregulation of sterol synthesis. These data identify Mafg and Mafk as new cataract-associated candidates and define their function in regulating largely non-crystallin genes linked to human cataract.
ASJC Scopus subject areas