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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