The retinoblastoma 1 (RB1) tumor suppressor is a critical regulator of cell cycle progression and development. To investigate the role of RB1 in neural crest-derived melanocytes, we bred mice with a floxed Rb1 allele with mice expressing Cre from the tyrosinase (Tyr) promoter. TyrCre+;Rb1fl/fl mice exhibited no melanocyte defects but died unexpectedly early with intestinal obstruction, striking defects in the enteric nervous system (ENS), and abnormal intestinal motility. Cre-induced DNA recombination occurred in all enteric glia and most small bowel myenteric neurons, yet phenotypic effects of Rb1 loss were cell-type specific. Enteric glia were twice as abundant in mutant mice compared with those in control animals, while myenteric neuron number was normal. Most myenteric neurons also appeared normal in size, but NO-producing myenteric neurons developed very large nuclei as a result of DNA replication without cell division (i.e., endoreplication). Parallel studies in vitro found that exogenous NO and Rb1 shRNA increased ENS precursor DNA replication and nuclear size. The large, irregularly shaped nuclei in NO-producing neurons were remarkably similar to those in progeria, an early-onset aging disorder that has been linked to RB1 dysfunction. These findings reveal a role for RB1 in the ENS.
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