Mutations in the RP1 gene can cause retinitis pigmentosa. We identified a spontaneous L66P mutation caused by two adjacent point mutations in the Rp1 gene in a colony of C57BL/6J mice. Mice homozygous for the L66P mutation exhibited slow, progressive photoreceptor degeneration throughout their lifespan. Optical coherence tomography imaging found abnormal photoreceptor reflectivity at 1 month of age. Histology found shortening and disorganization of the photoreceptor inner and outer segments and progressive thinning of the outer nuclear layer. Electroretinogram a- and b-wave amplitudes were decreased with age. Western blot analysis found that the quantity and size of the mutated retinitis pigmentosa 1 (RP1) protein were normal. However, immunohistochemistry found that the mutant Rp1 protein partially mislocalized to the transition zone of the shortened axonemes. This mutation disrupted colocalization with cytoplasmic microtubules in vitro. In conclusion, the L66P mutation in the first doublecortin domain of the Rp1 gene impairs Rp1 protein localization and function, leading to abnormalities in photoreceptor outer segment structure and progressive photoreceptor degeneration. This is the first missense mutation in Rp1 shown to cause retinal degeneration. It provides a unique, slowly progressive photoreceptor degeneration model that mirrors the slow degeneration kinetics in most patients with retinitis pigmentosa.
A defining feature in proliferative retinopathies is the formation of pathological neovessels. In these diseases, the balance between neovessel formation and regression determines blindness, making the modulation of neovessel growth highly desirable. The role of the immune system in these retinopathies is of increasing interest, but it is not completely understood. We investigated the role of the alternative complement pathway during the formation and resolution of aberrant neovascularization. We used alternative complement pathway-deficient (Fb(-/-)) mice and age- and strain-matched control mice to assess neovessel development and regression in an oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR) mouse model. In the control mice, we found increased transcription of Fb after OIR treatment. In the Fb(-/-) mice, we prepared retinal flatmounts and identified an increased number of neovessels, peaking at postnatal day 17 (P17; P=0.001). Subjecting human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs) to low oxygen, mimicking a characteristic of neovessels, decreased the expression of the complement inhibitor Cd55. Finally, using laser capture microdissection (LCM) to isolate the neovessels after OIR, we found decreased expression of Cd55 (P=0.005). Together, our data implicate the alternative complement pathway in facilitating neovessel clearance by down-regulating the complement inhibitor Cd55 specifically on neovessels, allowing for their targeted removal while leaving the established vasculature intact.-Sweigard, J. H., Yanai, R., Gaissert, P., Saint-Geniez, M., Kataoka, K., Thanos, A., Stahl, G. L., Lambris, J. D., Connor, K. M. The alternative complement pathway regulates pathological angiogenesis in the retina.
PURPOSE: Marked attenuation of the single-flash electroretinographic (ERG) b-wave in the presence of a normal-amplitude or less-attenuated a-wave is commonly referred to as the "negative ERG." The purpose of this study was to investigate whether the disparate origins of the negative ERG in three murine models can be discriminated using flickering stimuli. METHODS: Three models were selected: (1) the Nyx (nob) mouse model of complete congenital stationary night blindness, (2) the oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR) rat model of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), and (3) the Rs1 knockout (KO) mouse model of X-linked juvenile retinoschisis. Directly after a dark-adapted, single-flash ERG luminance series, a flicker ERG frequency series (0.5-30 Hz) was performed at a fixed luminance of 0.5 log cd s/m(2). This series includes frequency ranges that are dominated by activity in (A) the rod pathways (below 5 Hz), (B) the cone ON-pathway (5-15 Hz), and (C) the cone OFF-pathway (above 15 Hz). RESULTS: All three models produced markedly attenuated single-flash ERG b-waves. In the Nyx (nob) mouse, which features postsynaptic deficits in the ON-pathways, the a-wave was normal and flicker responses were attenuated in ranges A and B, but not C. The ROP rat is characterized by inner-retinal ischemia which putatively affects both ON- and OFF-bipolar cell activity; flicker responses were reduced in all ranges (A-C). Notably, the choroid supplies the photoreceptors and is thought to be relatively intact in OIR, an idea supported by the nearly normal a-wave. Finally, in the Rs1 KO mouse, which has documented abnormality of the photoreceptor-bipolar synapse affecting both ON- and OFF-pathways, the flicker responses were attenuated in all ranges (A-C). The a-wave was also attenuated, likely as a consequence to schisms in the photoreceptor layer. CONCLUSION: Consideration of both single-flash and flickering ERG responses can discriminate the functional pathology of the negative ERG in these animal models of human disease.
Diabetes can lead to vision loss because of progressive degeneration of the neurovascular unit in the retina, a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. In its early stages, the pathology is characterized by microangiopathies, including microaneurysms, microhemorrhages, and nerve layer infarcts known as cotton-wool spots. Analyses of postmortem human retinal tissue and retinas from animal models indicate that degeneration of the pericytes, which constitute the outer layer of capillaries, is an early event in diabetic retinopathy; however, the relative contribution of specific cellular components to the pathobiology of diabetic retinopathy remains to be defined. We investigated the phenotypic consequences of pericyte death on retinal microvascular integrity by using nondiabetic mice conditionally expressing a diphtheria toxin receptor in mural cells. Five days after administering diphtheria toxin in these adult mice, changes were observed in the retinal vasculature that were similar to those observed in diabetes, including microaneurysms and increased vascular permeability, suggesting that pericyte cell loss is sufficient to trigger retinal microvascular degeneration. Therapies aimed at preventing or delaying pericyte dropout may avoid or attenuate the retinal microangiopathy associated with diabetes.
The field of gene therapy for retinal blinding disorders is experiencing incredible momentum, justified by hopeful results in early stage clinical trials for inherited retinal degenerations. The premise of the use of the gene as a drug has come a long way, and may have found its niche in the treatment of retinal disease. Indeed, with only limited treatment options available for retinal indications, gene therapy has been proven feasible, safe, and effective and may lead to durable effects following a single injection. Here, we aim at putting into context the promise and potential, the technical, clinical, and economic boundaries limiting its application and development, and speculate on a future in which gene therapy is an integral component of ophthalmic clinical care.
PURPOSE: Retinitis pigmentosa is a Mendelian disease with a very elevated genetic heterogeneity. Most mutations are responsible for less than 1% of cases, making molecular diagnosis a multigene screening procedure. In this study, we assessed whether direct testing of specific alleles could be a valuable screening approach in cases characterized by prevalent founder mutations. METHODS: We screened 275 North American patients with recessive/isolate retinitis pigmentosa for two mutations: an Alu insertion in the MAK gene and the p.Lys42Glu missense in the DHDDS gene. All patients were unrelated; 35 reported Jewish ancestry and the remainder reported mixed ethnicity. RESULTS: We identified the MAK and DHDDS mutations homozygously in only 2.1% and 0.8%, respectively, of patients of mixed ethnicity, but in 25.7% and 8.6%, respectively, of cases reporting Jewish ancestry. Haplotype analyses revealed that inheritance of the MAK mutation was attributable to a founder effect. CONCLUSION: In contrast to most mutations associated with retinitis pigmentosa-which are, in general, extremely rare-the two alleles investigated here cause disease in approximately one-third of North American patients reporting Jewish ancestry. Therefore, their screening constitutes an alternative procedure to large-scale tests for patients belonging to this ethnic group, especially in time-sensitive situations.Genet Med 17 4, 285-290.
Gene regulatory networks (GRNs) regulate critical events during development. In complex tissues, such as the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), networks likely provide the complex regulatory interactions needed to direct the specification of the many CNS cell types. Here, we dissect a GRN that regulates a binary fate decision between two siblings in the murine retina, the rod photoreceptor and bipolar interneuron. The GRN centers on Blimp1, one of the transcription factors (TFs) that regulates the rod versus bipolar cell fate decision. We identified a cis-regulatory module (CRM), B108, that mimics Blimp1 expression. Deletion of genomic B108 by CRISPR/Cas9 in vivo using electroporation abolished the function of Blimp1. Otx2 and RORβ were found to regulate Blimp1 expression via B108, and Blimp1 and Otx2 were shown to form a negative feedback loop that regulates the level of Otx2, which regulates the production of the correct ratio of rods and bipolar cells.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a genetically heterogenous group of eye diseases in which initial degeneration of rods triggers secondary degeneration of cones, leading to significant loss of daylight, color, and high-acuity vision. Gene complementation with adeno-associated viral (AAV) vectors is one strategy to treat RP. Its implementation faces substantial challenges, however; for example, the tremendous number of loci with causal mutations. Gene therapy targeting secondary cone degeneration is an alternative approach that could provide a much-needed generic treatment for many patients with RP. Here, we show that microglia are required for the upregulation of potentially neurotoxic inflammatory factors during cone degeneration in RP, creating conditions that might contribute to cone dysfunction and death. To ameliorate the effects of such factors, we used AAV vectors to express isoforms of the antiinflammatory cytokine transforming growth factor beta (TGF-β). AAV-mediated delivery of TGF-β1 rescued degenerating cones in 3 mouse models of RP carrying different pathogenic mutations. Treatment with TGF-β1 protected vision, as measured by 2 behavioral assays, and could be pharmacologically disrupted by either depleting microglia or blocking the TGF-β receptors. Our results suggest that TGF-β1 may be broadly beneficial for patients with cone degeneration, and potentially other forms of neurodegeneration, through a pathway dependent upon microglia.
OBJECTIVE: The deficiency of very low-density lipoprotein receptor resulted in Wnt signaling activation and neovascularization in the retina. The present study sought to determine whether the very low-density lipoprotein receptor extracellular domain (VLN) is responsible for the inhibition of Wnt signaling in ocular tissues. APPROACH AND RESULTS: A plasmid expressing the soluble VLN was encapsulated with poly(lactide-co-glycolide acid) to form VLN nanoparticles (VLN-NP). Nanoparticles containing a plasmid expressing the low-density lipoprotein receptor extracellular domain nanoparticle were used as negative control. MTT, modified Boyden chamber, and Matrigel (™) assays were used to evaluate the inhibitory effect of VLN-NP on Wnt3a-stimulated endothelial cell proliferation, migration, and tube formation. Vldlr(-/-) mice, oxygen-induced retinopathy, and alkali burn-induced corneal neovascularization models were used to evaluate the effect of VLN-NP on ocular neovascularization. Wnt reporter mice (BAT-gal), Western blotting, and luciferase assay were used to evaluate Wnt pathway activity. Our results showed that VLN-NP specifically inhibited Wnt3a-induced endothelial cell proliferation, migration, and tube formation. Intravitreal injection of VLN-NP inhibited abnormal neovascularization in Vldlr(-/-), oxygen-induced retinopathy, and alkali burn-induced corneal neovascularization models, compared with low-density lipoprotein receptor extracellular domain nanoparticle. VLN-NP significantly inhibited the phosphorylation of low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 6, the accumulation of β-catenin, and the expression of vascular endothelial growth factor in vivo and in vitro. CONCLUSIONS: Taken together, these results suggest that the soluble VLN is a negative regulator of the Wnt pathway and has antiangiogenic activities. Nanoparticle-mediated expression of VLN may thus represent a novel therapeutic approach to treat pathological ocular angiogenesis and potentially other vascular diseases affected by Wnt signaling.
The nitric oxide - guanylyl cyclase-1 - cyclic guanylate monophosphate (NO-GC-1-cGMP) pathway has emerged as a potential pathogenic mechanism for glaucoma, a common intraocular pressure (IOP)-related optic neuropathy characterized by the degeneration of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) and their axons in the optic nerve. NO activates GC-1 to increase cGMP levels, which are lowered by cGMP-specific phosphodiesterase (PDE) activity. This pathway appears to play a role in both the regulation of IOP, where reduced cGMP levels in mice leads to elevated IOP and subsequent RGC degeneration. Here, we investigated whether potentiation of cGMP signaling could protect RGCs from glaucomatous degeneration. We administered the PDE5 inhibitor tadalafil orally (10 mg/kg/day) in murine models of two forms of glaucoma - primary open angle glaucoma (POAG; GC-1 mice) and primary angle-closure glaucoma (PACG; Microbead Occlusion Model) - and measured RGC viability at both the soma and axon level. To determine the direct effect of increased cGMP on RGCs in vitro, we treated axotomized whole retina and primary RGC cultures with the cGMP analogue 8-Br-cGMP. Tadalafil treatment increased plasma cGMP levels in both models, but did not alter IOP or mean arterial pressure. Nonetheless, tadalafil treatment prevented degeneration of RGC soma and axons in both disease models. Treatment of whole, axotomized retina and primary RGC cultures with 8-Br-cGMP markedly attenuated both necrotic and apoptotic cell death pathways in RGCs. Our findings suggest that enhancement of the NO-GC-1-cGMP pathway protects the RGC body and axon in murine models of POAG and PACG, and that enhanced signaling through this pathway may serve as a novel glaucoma treatment, acting independently of IOP.
Retinal degenerative diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, and glaucoma result in permanent loss of retinal neurons and vision. Stem cell therapy could be a novel treatment strategy to restore visual function. In an ideal situation, a homogenous population of stem cell-derived retinal neurons with high purity is used for replacement therapy. Thus, it is crucial to elucidate the molecular mechanisms that regulate the development of retinal progenitor cells and subsequent generation of specific retinal neurons. Here, recent findings concerning the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate retinal progenitor cell maintenance and differentiation are summarized, especially transcriptional factors and extrinsic signals. Understanding these mechanisms is indispensable because they have potential clinical applications, chiefly the generation of specific retinal cells such as retinal ganglion cells to treat glaucoma and other optic neuropathy diseases.
Purpose: Clinical manifestations of photoreceptor degeneration include gradual thinning of the outer nuclear layer (ONL) and progressive reduction of electroretinogram (ERG) amplitudes and vision loss. Although preclinical evaluations of treatment strategies greatly depend on rodent models, the courses of these changes in mice remain unclear. We thus sought to investigate the temporal correlations in changes of spatial vision, ERG response, and ONL thickness in mice with progressive photoreceptor degeneration. Methods: Adult wild-type (WT) mice and mice carrying rhodopsin deficiency (Rho-/-), a frequently used mouse model of human retinitis pigmentosa, were selected for investigation. Mouse spatial vision, including visual acuity (VA) and contrast sensitivity (CS), was determined using optomotor response (OMR) assays; ONL thickness was quantified by spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT), and ERG was performed to evaluate retinal functions. The mice were killed when they were 14 weeks old, and the cone photoreceptors in retinal sections were counted. Results: Spatial vision, ONL thickness, and ERG amplitudes remained stable in WT mice at all examined time points. While 6-week-old Rho-/- mice had VA, CS, as well as ERG responses similar to those of WT mice, progressive reductions in the spatial vision and retinal functions were recorded thereafter. Most tested 12-week-old Rho-/- mice had no visual-evoked OMR and ERG responses. Moreover, CS, but not VA, displayed a linear decline that was closely associated with ONL thinning, reduction of ERG amplitudes, and loss of cones. Conclusions: We presented a comprehensive study of the relation between the changes of spatial vision, retinal function, and ONL thickness in postnatal week (PW)6 to PW12 Rho-/- mice. CS is a more sensitive indicator of spatial vision compared to VA, although both are required as separate parameters for monitoring the visual changes in retina undergoing photoreceptor degeneration.
The deterioration of retinal tissue in advanced stages of retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration and the lack of signaling cues for laminar regeneration are significant challenges highlighting the need for a tissue-engineering approach to retinal repair. In this study, we fabricated a biodegradable thin-film polycaprolactone (PCL) scaffold with varying surface topographies using microfabrication techniques. Mouse retinal progenitor cells (mRPC) cultured on PCL scaffolds exhibited enhanced potential to differentiate towards a photoreceptor fate in comparison to mRPCs cultured on control substrates, suggesting that PCL scaffolds are promising as substrates to guide differentiation of mRPCs towards a photoreceptor fate in vitro prior to transplantation. When co-cultured with the retinal explants of rhodopsin null mice, mRPC/PCL constructs showed increased mRPC integration rates compared to directly applied dissociated mRPCs. Moreover, these mRPC/PCL constructs could be delivered into the sub-retinal space of rhodopsin null mice with minimal disturbance of the host retina. Whether co-cultured with retinal explants or transplanted into the sub-retinal space, newly integrated mRPCs localized to the outer nuclear layer and expressed appropriate markers of photoreceptor fate. Thus, the PCL scaffold provides a platform to guide differentiation and organized deliver of mRPCs as a practical strategy to repair damaged retina.
PURPOSE: There is a need for automated retinal optical coherence tomography (OCT) image analysis tools for quantitative measurements in small animals. Some image processing techniques for retinal layer analysis have been developed, but reports about how useful those techniques are in actual animal studies are rare. This paper presents the use of a retinal layer detection method we developed in an actual mouse study that involves wild type and mutated mice carrying photoreceptor degeneration. METHODS: Spectral domain OCT scanning was performed by four experimenters over 12 months on 45 mouse eyes that were wild-type, deficient for ephrin-A2 and ephrin-A3, deficient for rhodopsin, or deficient for rhodopsin, ephrin-A2 and ephrin-A3. The thickness of photoreceptor complex between the outer plexiform layer and retinal pigment epithelium was measured on two sides of the optic disc as the biomarker of retinal degeneration. All the layer detection results were visually confirmed. RESULTS: Overall, 96% (8519 out of 9000) of the half-side images were successfully processed using our technique in a semi-automatic manner. There was no significant difference in success rate between mouse lines (p = 0.91). Based on a human observer's rating of image quality for images successfully and unsuccessfully processed, the odds ratios for 'easily visible' images and 'not clear' images to be successfully processed is 62 and 4, respectively, against 'indistinguishable' images. Thickness of photoreceptor complex was significantly different across the quadrants compared (p < 0.001). It was also found that the average thickness based on 4-point sparse sampling was not significantly different from the full analysis, while the range of differences between the two methods could be up to about 6 μm or 16% for individual eyes. Differences between mouse lines and progressive thickness reduction were revealed by both sampling measures. CONCLUSIONS: Although the thickness of the photoreceptor complex layer is not even, manual sparse sampling may be as sufficiently accurate as full analysis in some studies such as ours, where the error of sparse sampling was much smaller than the effect size of rhodopsin deficiency. It is also suggested that the image processing method can be useful in actual animal studies. Even for images poorly visible to human eyes the image processing method still has a good chance to extract the complex layer.
PURPOSE: Current sequencing strategies can genetically solve 55-60% of inherited retinal degeneration (IRD) cases, despite recent progress in sequencing. This can partially be attributed to elusive pathogenic variants (PVs) in known IRD genes, including copy-number variations (CNVs), which have been shown as major contributors to unsolved IRD cases. METHODS: Five hundred IRD patients were analyzed with targeted next-generation sequencing (NGS). The NGS data were used to detect CNVs with ExomeDepth and gCNV and the results were compared with CNV detection with a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array. Likely causal CNV predictions were validated by quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). RESULTS: Likely disease-causing single-nucleotide variants (SNVs) and small indels were found in 55.6% of subjects. PVs in USH2A (11.6%), RPGR (4%), and EYS (4%) were the most common. Likely causal CNVs were found in an additional 8.8% of patients. Of the three CNV detection methods, gCNV showed the highest accuracy. Approximately 30% of unsolved subjects had a single likely PV in a recessive IRD gene. CONCLUSION: CNV detection using NGS-based algorithms is a reliable method that greatly increases the genetic diagnostic rate of IRDs. Experimentally validating CNVs helps estimate the rate at which IRDs might be solved by a CNV plus a more elusive variant.
PURPOSE: In Mendelian disease diagnosis, variant analysis is a repetitive, error-prone, and time consuming process. To address this, we have developed the Mendelian Analysis Toolkit (MATK), a configurable, automated variant ranking program. METHODS: MATK aggregates variant information from multiple annotation sources and uses expert-designed rules with parameterized weights to produce a ranked list of potentially causal solutions. MATK performance was measured by a comparison between MATK-aided and human-domain expert analyses of 1060 families with inherited retinal degeneration (IRD), analyzed using an IRD-specific gene panel (589 individuals) and exome sequencing (471 families). RESULTS: When comparing MATK-assisted analysis with expert curation in both the IRD-specific gene panel and exome sequencing (1060 subjects), 97.3% of potential solutions found by experts were also identified by the MATK-assisted analysis (541 solutions identified with MATK of 556 solutions found by conventional analysis). Furthermore, MATK-assisted analysis identified 114 additional potential solutions from the 504 cases unsolved by conventional analysis. CONCLUSION: MATK expedites the process of identification of likely solving variants in Mendelian traits, and reduces variability stemming from human error and researcher bias. MATK facilitates data reanalysis to keep up with the constantly improving annotation sources and next-generation sequencing processing pipelines. The software is open source and available at https://gitlab.com/matthew_maher/mendelanalysis.