The human eye malformation aniridia results from haploinsufficiency of PAX6, a paired box DNA–binding protein. To study this dosage effect, we characterized two PAX6 mutations in a family segregating aniridia and a milder syndrome consisting of congenital cataracts and late onset corneal dystrophy. The nonsense mutations, at codons 103 and 353, truncate PAX6 within the N–terminal paired and C–terminal PST domains, respectively. The wild–type PST domain activates transcription autonomously and the mutant form has partial activity. A compound heterozygote had severe craniofacial and central nervous system defects and no eyes. The pattern of malformations is similar to that in homozygous Sey mice and suggests a critical role for PAX6 in controlling the migration and differentiation of specific neuronal progenitor cells in the brain.
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