Mutations in the RET gene are the primary cause of Hirschsprung disease (HSCR), or congenital intestinal aganglionosis. However, how RET malfunction leads to HSCR is not known. It has recently been shown that glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) family receptor α1 (GFRα1), which binds to GDNF and activates RET, is essential for the survival of enteric neurons. In this study, we investigated Ret regulation of enteric neuron survival and its potential involvement in HSCR. Conditional ablation of Ret in postmigratory enteric neurons caused widespread neuronal death in the colon, which led to colonic aganglionosis. To further examine this finding, we generated a mouse model for HSCR by reducing Ret expression levels. These mice recapitulated the genetic and phenotypic features of HSCR and developed colonic aganglionosis due to impaired migration and successive death of enteric neural crest–derived cells. Death of enteric neurons was also induced in the colon, where reduction of Ret expression was induced after the period of enteric neural crest cell migration, indicating that diminished Ret expression directly affected the survival of colonic neurons. Thus, enteric neuron survival is sensitive to RET dosage, and cell death is potentially involved in the etiology of HSCR.
Toshihiro Uesaka, Mayumi Nagashimada, Shigenobu Yonemura, Hideki Enomoto