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1.  Gene expression changes during retinal development and rod specification 
Molecular Vision  2015;21:61-87.
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) typically results from individual mutations in any one of >70 genes that cause rod photoreceptor cells to degenerate prematurely, eventually resulting in blindness. Gene therapies targeting individual RP genes have shown efficacy at clinical trial; however, these therapies require the surviving photoreceptor cells to be viable and functional, and may be economically feasible for only the more commonly mutated genes. An alternative potential treatment strategy, particularly for late stage disease, may involve stem cell transplants into the photoreceptor layer of the retina. Rod progenitors from postnatal mouse retinas can be transplanted and can form photoreceptors in recipient adult retinas; optimal numbers of transplantable cells are obtained from postnatal day 3–5 (P3–5) retinas. These cells can also be expanded in culture; however, this results in the loss of photoreceptor potential. Gene expression differences between postnatal retinas, cultured retinal progenitor cells (RPCs), and rod photoreceptor precursors were investigated to identify gene expression patterns involved in the specification of rod photoreceptors.
Microarrays were used to investigate differences in gene expression between cultured RPCs that have lost photoreceptor potential, P1 retinas, and fresh P5 retinas that contain significant numbers of transplantable photoreceptors. Additionally, fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) sorted Rho-eGFP-expressing rod photoreceptor precursors were compared with Rho-eGFP-negative cells from the same P5 retinas. Differential expression was confirmed with quantitative polymerase chain reaction (q-PCR).
Analysis of the microarray data sets, including the use of t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding (t-SNE) to identify expression pattern neighbors of key photoreceptor specific genes, resulted in the identification of 636 genes differentially regulated during rod specification. Forty-four of these genes when mutated have previously been found to cause retinal disease. Although gene function in other tissues may be known, the retinal function of approximately 61% of the gene list is as yet undetermined. Many of these genes’ promoters contain binding sites for the key photoreceptor transcription factors Crx and Nr2e3; moreover, the genomic clustering of differentially regulated genes appears to be non-random.
This study aids in understanding gene expression differences between rod photoreceptor progenitors versus cultured RPCs that have lost photoreceptor potential. The results provide insights into rod photoreceptor development and should expedite the development of cell-based treatments for RP. Furthermore, the data set includes a large number of retinopathy genes; less-well-characterized genes within this data set are a resource for those seeking to identify novel retinopathy genes in patients with RP (GEO accession: GSE59201).
PMCID: PMC4301594  PMID: 25678762
2.  p53 Selectively Regulates Developmental Apoptosis of Rod Photoreceptors 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67381.
Retinal cells become post-mitotic early during post-natal development. It is likely that p53, a well-known cell cycle regulator, is involved in regulating the genesis, differentiation and death of retinal cells. Furthermore, retinal cells are under constant oxidative stress that can result in DNA damage, due to the extremely high level of metabolic activity associated with phototransduction. If not repaired, this damage may result in p53-dependent cell death and ensuing vision loss. In this study, the role of p53 during retinal development and in the post-mitotic retina is investigated. A previously described super p53 transgenic mouse that expresses an extra copy of the mouse p53 gene driven by its endogenous promoter is utilized. Another transgenic mouse (HIP) that expresses the p53 gene in rod and cone photoreceptors driven by the human interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein promoter was generated. The electroretinogram (ERG) of the super p53 mouse exhibited reduced rod-driven scotopic a and b wave and cone-driven photopic b wave responses. This deficit resulted from a reduced number of rod photoreceptors and inner nuclear layer cells. However, the reduced photopic signal arose only from lost inner retinal neurons, as cone numbers did not change. Furthermore, cell loss was non-progressive and resulted from increased apoptosis during retinal developmental as determined by TUNEL staining. In contrast, the continuous and specific expression of p53 in rod and cone photoreceptors in the mature retinas of HIP mice led to the selective loss of both rods and cones. These findings strongly support a role for p53 in regulating developmental apoptosis in the retina and suggest a potential role, either direct or indirect, for p53 in the degenerative photoreceptor loss associated with human blinding disorders.
PMCID: PMC3688626  PMID: 23840687
3.  Transgenic Expression of Constitutively Active RAC1 Disrupts Mouse Rod Morphogenesis 
Dominant-active RAC1 rescues photoreceptor structure in Drosophila rhodopsin-null mutants, indicating an important role in morphogenesis. This report assesses the morphogenetic effect of activated RAC1 during mammalian rod photoreceptor development using transgenic mice that express constitutively active (CA) RAC1.
Transgenic mice were generated by expressing CA RAC1 under control of the Rhodopsin promoter, and morphological features of the photoreceptors were evaluated by histology, immunohistochemistry, and transmission electron microscopy. Function was evaluated by electroretinography. Potential protein partners of CA RAC1 were identified by co-immunoprecipitation of retinal extracts.
Constitutively active RAC1 expression in differentiating rods disrupted outer retinal lamination as early as postnatal day (P)6, and many photoreceptor cell nuclei were displaced apically into the presumptive subretinal space. These photoreceptors did not develop normal inner and outer segments and had abnormal placement of synaptic elements. Some photoreceptor nuclei were also mislocalized into the inner nuclear layer. Extensive photoreceptor degeneration was subsequently observed in the adult animal. Constitutively active RAC1 formed a complex with the polarity protein PAR6 and with microtubule motor dynein in mouse retina. The normal localization of the PAR6 complex was disrupted in CA RAC1-expressing rod photoreceptors.
Constitutively active RAC1 had a profound negative effect on mouse rod cell viability and development. Rod photoreceptors in the CA RAC1 retina exhibited a defect in polarity and migration. Constitutively active RAC1 disrupted rod morphogenesis and gave a phenotype resembling that found in the Crumbs mutant. PAR6 and dynein are two potential downstream effectors that may be involved in CA RAC1-mediated defective mouse photoreceptor morphogenesis.
Active RAC1 is a key player in Drosophila photoreceptor morphogenesis. We assessed the morphogenetic role of constitutively active (CA) RAC1 in mouse rod photoreceptors and found that CA RAC1 disrupted photoreceptor positioning and polarity during development.
PMCID: PMC4001786  PMID: 24651551
RAC1; mouse rod morphogenesis; lamination; positioning and polarity; photoreceptor degeneration
4.  A role for prenylated rab acceptor 1 in vertebrate photoreceptor development 
BMC Neuroscience  2012;13:152.
The rd1 mouse retina is a well-studied model of retinal degeneration where rod photoreceptors undergo cell death beginning at postnatal day (P) 10 until P21. This period coincides with photoreceptor terminal differentiation in a normal retina. We have used the rd1 retina as a model to investigate early molecular defects in developing rod photoreceptors prior to the onset of degeneration.
Using a microarray approach, we performed gene profiling comparing rd1 and wild type (wt) retinas at four time points starting at P2, prior to any obvious biochemical or morphological differences, and concluding at P8, prior to the initiation of cell death. Of the 143 identified differentially expressed genes, we focused on Rab acceptor 1 (Rabac1), which codes for the protein Prenylated rab acceptor 1 (PRA1) and plays an important role in vesicular trafficking. Quantitative RT-PCR analysis confirmed reduced expression of PRA1 in rd1 retina at all time points examined. Immunohistochemical observation showed that PRA1-like immunoreactivity (LIR) co-localized with the cis-Golgi marker GM-130 in the photoreceptor as the Golgi translocated from the perikarya to the inner segment during photoreceptor differentiation in wt retinas. Diffuse PRA1-LIR, distinct from the Golgi marker, was seen in the distal inner segment of wt photoreceptors starting at P8. Both plexiform layers contained PRA1 positive punctae independent of GM-130 staining during postnatal development. In the inner retina, PRA1-LIR also colocalized with the Golgi marker in the perinuclear region of most cells. A similar pattern was seen in the rd1 mouse inner retina. However, punctate and significantly reduced PRA1-LIR was present throughout the developing rd1 inner segment, consistent with delayed photoreceptor development and abnormalities in Golgi sorting and vesicular trafficking.
We have identified genes that are differentially regulated in the rd1 retina at early time points, which may give insights into developmental defects that precede photoreceptor cell death. This is the first report of PRA1 expression in the retina. Our data support the hypothesis that PRA1 plays an important role in vesicular trafficking between the Golgi and cilia in differentiating and mature rod photoreceptors.
PMCID: PMC3576285  PMID: 23241222
Retina; Photoreceptor; Mouse; Retinal degeneration; Photoreceptor development; Rabac1; Prenylated Rab Acceptor 1; Rab6; Vesicular trafficking
5.  Cell-Specific DNA Methylation Patterns of Retina-Specific Genes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e32602.
Many studies have demonstrated that epigenetic mechanisms are important in the regulation of gene expression during embryogenesis, gametogenesis, and other forms of tissue-specific gene regulation. We sought to explore the possible role of epigenetics, specifically DNA methylation, in the establishment and maintenance of cell type-restricted gene expression in the retina. To assess the relationship between DNA methylation status and expression level of retinal genes, bisulfite sequence analysis of the 1000 bp region around the transcription start sites (TSS) of representative rod and cone photoreceptor-specific genes and gene expression analysis were performed in the WERI and Y79 human retinoblastoma cell lines. Next, the homologous genes in mouse were bisulfite sequenced in the retina and in non-expressing tissues. Finally, bisulfite sequencing was performed on isolated photoreceptor and non-photoreceptor retinal cells isolated by laser capture microdissection. Differential methylation of rhodopsin (RHO), retinal binding protein 3 (RBP3, IRBP) cone opsin, short-wave-sensitive (OPN1SW), cone opsin, middle-wave-sensitive (OPN1MW), and cone opsin, long-wave-sensitive (OPN1LW) was found in the retinoblastoma cell lines that inversely correlated with gene expression levels. Similarly, we found tissue-specific hypomethylation of the promoter region of Rho and Rbp3 in mouse retina as compared to non-expressing tissues, and also observed hypomethylation of retinal-expressed microRNAs. The Rho and Rbp3 promoter regions were unmethylated in expressing photoreceptor cells and methylated in non-expressing, non-photoreceptor cells from the inner nuclear layer. A third regional hypomethylation pattern of photoreceptor-specific genes was seen in a subpopulation of non-expressing photoreceptors (Rho in cones from the Nrl −/− mouse and Opn1sw in rods). These results demonstrate that a number of photoreceptor-specific genes have cell-specific differential DNA methylation that correlates inversely with their expression level. Furthermore, these cell-specific patterns suggest that DNA methylation may play an important role in modulating photoreceptor gene expression in the developing mammalian retina.
PMCID: PMC3293830  PMID: 22403679
6.  Three-dimensional retinal organoids from mouse pluripotent stem cells mimic in vivo development with enhanced stratification and rod photoreceptor differentiation 
Molecular Vision  2016;22:1077-1094.
The generation of three-dimensional (3D) organoids with optic cup–like structures from pluripotent stem cells has created opportunities for investigating mammalian retinal development in vitro. However, retinal organoids in culture do not completely reflect the developmental state and in vivo architecture of the rod-dominant mouse retina. The goals of this study were to develop an efficient protocol for generating retinal organoids from stem cells and examine the morphogenesis of rods in vitro.
To assess rod photoreceptor differentiation in retinal organoids, we took advantage of Nrl-green fluorescent protein (GFP) mice that show rod-specific expression of GFP directed by the promoter of leucine zipper transcription factor NRL. Using embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells (ESCs and iPSCs, respectively) derived from the Nrl-GFP mouse, we were successful in establishing long-term retinal organoid cultures using modified culture conditions (called High Efficiency Hypoxia Induced Generation of Photoreceptors in Retinal Organoids, or HIPRO).
We demonstrated efficient differentiation of pluripotent stem cells to retinal structures. More than 70% of embryoid bodies formed optic vesicles at day (D) 7, >50% produced optic cups by D10, and most of them survived until at least D35. The HIPRO organoids included distinct inner retina neurons in a somewhat stratified architecture and mature Müller glia spanning the entire retina. Almost 70% of the cells in the retinal organoids were rod photoreceptors that exhibited elongated cilia. Transcriptome profiles of GFP+ rod photoreceptors, purified from organoids at D25–35, demonstrated a high correlation with the gene profiles of purified rods from the mouse retina at P2 to P6, indicating their early state of differentiation.
The 3D retinal organoids, generated by HIPRO method, closely mimic in vivo retinogenesis and provide an efficient in vitro model to investigate photoreceptor development and modeling disease pathology.
PMCID: PMC5017542  PMID: 27667917
7.  Structural and functional protein network analyses predict novel signaling functions for rhodopsin 
Proteomic analyses, literature mining, and structural data were combined to generate an extensive signaling network linked to the visual G protein-coupled receptor rhodopsin. Network analysis suggests novel signaling routes to cytoskeleton dynamics and vesicular trafficking.
Using a shotgun proteomic approach, we identified the protein inventory of the light sensing outer segment of the mammalian photoreceptor.These data, combined with literature mining, structural modeling, and computational analysis, offer a comprehensive view of signal transduction downstream of the visual G protein-coupled receptor rhodopsin.The network suggests novel signaling branches downstream of rhodopsin to cytoskeleton dynamics and vesicular trafficking.The network serves as a basis for elucidating physiological principles of photoreceptor function and suggests potential disease-associated proteins.
Photoreceptor cells are neurons capable of converting light into electrical signals. The rod outer segment (ROS) region of the photoreceptor cells is a cellular structure made of a stack of around 800 closed membrane disks loaded with rhodopsin (Liang et al, 2003; Nickell et al, 2007). In disc membranes, rhodopsin arranges itself into paracrystalline dimer arrays, enabling optimal association with the heterotrimeric G protein transducin as well as additional regulatory components (Ciarkowski et al, 2005). Disruption of these highly regulated structures and processes by germline mutations is the cause of severe blinding diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, or congenital stationary night blindness (Berger et al, 2010).
Traditionally, signal transduction networks have been studied by combining biochemical and genetic experiments addressing the relations among a small number of components. More recently, large throughput experiments using different techniques like two hybrid or co-immunoprecipitation coupled to mass spectrometry have added a new level of complexity (Ito et al, 2001; Gavin et al, 2002, 2006; Ho et al, 2002; Rual et al, 2005; Stelzl et al, 2005). However, in these studies, space, time, and the fact that many interactions detected for a particular protein are not compatible, are not taken into consideration. Structural information can help discriminate between direct and indirect interactions and more importantly it can determine if two or more predicted partners of any given protein or complex can simultaneously bind a target or rather compete for the same interaction surface (Kim et al, 2006).
In this work, we build a functional and dynamic interaction network centered on rhodopsin on a systems level, using six steps: In step 1, we experimentally identified the proteomic inventory of the porcine ROS, and we compared our data set with a recent proteomic study from bovine ROS (Kwok et al, 2008). The union of the two data sets was defined as the ‘initial experimental ROS proteome'. After removal of contaminants and applying filtering methods, a ‘core ROS proteome', consisting of 355 proteins, was defined.
In step 2, proteins of the core ROS proteome were assigned to six functional modules: (1) vision, signaling, transporters, and channels; (2) outer segment structure and morphogenesis; (3) housekeeping; (4) cytoskeleton and polarity; (5) vesicles formation and trafficking, and (6) metabolism.
In step 3, a protein-protein interaction network was constructed based on the literature mining. Since for most of the interactions experimental evidence was co-immunoprecipitation, or pull-down experiments, and in addition many of the edges in the network are supported by single experimental evidence, often derived from high-throughput approaches, we refer to this network, as ‘fuzzy ROS interactome'. Structural information was used to predict binary interactions, based on the finding that similar domain pairs are likely to interact in a similar way (‘nature repeats itself') (Aloy and Russell, 2002). To increase the confidence in the resulting network, edges supported by a single evidence not coming from yeast two-hybrid experiments were removed, exception being interactions where the evidence was the existence of a three-dimensional structure of the complex itself, or of a highly homologous complex. This curated static network (‘high-confidence ROS interactome') comprises 660 edges linking the majority of the nodes. By considering only edges supported by at least one evidence of direct binary interaction, we end up with a ‘high-confidence binary ROS interactome'. We next extended the published core pathway (Dell'Orco et al, 2009) using evidence from our high-confidence network. We find several new direct binary links to different cellular functional processes (Figure 4): the active rhodopsin interacts with Rac1 and the GTP form of Rho. There is also a connection between active rhodopsin and Arf4, as well as PDEδ with Rab13 and the GTP-bound form of Arl3 that links the vision cycle to vesicle trafficking and structure. We see a connection between PDEδ with prenyl-modified proteins, such as several small GTPases, as well as with rhodopsin kinase. Further, our network reveals several direct binary connections between Ca2+-regulated proteins and cytoskeleton proteins; these are CaMK2A with actinin, calmodulin with GAP43 and S1008, and PKC with 14-3-3 family members.
In step 4, part of the network was experimentally validated using three different approaches to identify physical protein associations that would occur under physiological conditions: (i) Co-segregation/co-sedimentation experiments, (ii) immunoprecipitations combined with mass spectrometry and/or subsequent immunoblotting, and (iii) utilizing the glycosylated N-terminus of rhodopsin to isolate its associated protein partners by Concanavalin A affinity purification. In total, 60 co-purification and co-elution experiments supported interactions that were already in our literature network, and new evidence from 175 co-IP experiments in this work was added. Next, we aimed to provide additional independent experimental confirmation for two of the novel networks and functional links proposed based on the network analysis: (i) the proposed complex between Rac1/RhoA/CRMP-2/tubulin/and ROCK II in ROS was investigated by culturing retinal explants in the presence of an ROCK II-specific inhibitor (Figure 6). While morphology of the retinas treated with ROCK II inhibitor appeared normal, immunohistochemistry analyses revealed several alterations on the protein level. (ii) We supported the hypothesis that PDEδ could function as a GDI for Rac1 in ROS, by demonstrating that PDEδ and Rac1 co localize in ROS and that PDEδ could dissociate Rac1 from ROS membranes in vitro.
In step 5, we use structural information to distinguish between mutually compatible (‘AND') or excluded (‘XOR') interactions. This enables breaking a network of nodes and edges into functional machines or sub-networks/modules. In the vision branch, both ‘AND' and ‘XOR' gates synergize. This may allow dynamic tuning of light and dark states. However, all connections from the vision module to other modules are ‘XOR' connections suggesting that competition, in connection with local protein concentration changes, could be important for transmitting signals from the core vision module.
In the last step, we map and functionally characterize the known mutations that produce blindness.
In summary, this represents the first comprehensive, dynamic, and integrative rhodopsin signaling network, which can be the basis for integrating and mapping newly discovered disease mutants, to guide protein or signaling branch-specific therapies.
Orchestration of signaling, photoreceptor structural integrity, and maintenance needed for mammalian vision remain enigmatic. By integrating three proteomic data sets, literature mining, computational analyses, and structural information, we have generated a multiscale signal transduction network linked to the visual G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) rhodopsin, the major protein component of rod outer segments. This network was complemented by domain decomposition of protein–protein interactions and then qualified for mutually exclusive or mutually compatible interactions and ternary complex formation using structural data. The resulting information not only offers a comprehensive view of signal transduction induced by this GPCR but also suggests novel signaling routes to cytoskeleton dynamics and vesicular trafficking, predicting an important level of regulation through small GTPases. Further, it demonstrates a specific disease susceptibility of the core visual pathway due to the uniqueness of its components present mainly in the eye. As a comprehensive multiscale network, it can serve as a basis to elucidate the physiological principles of photoreceptor function, identify potential disease-associated genes and proteins, and guide the development of therapies that target specific branches of the signaling pathway.
PMCID: PMC3261702  PMID: 22108793
protein interaction network; rhodopsin signaling; structural modeling
8.  Machine learning approaches to supporting the identification of photoreceptor-enriched genes based on expression data 
BMC Bioinformatics  2006;7:116.
Retinal photoreceptors are highly specialised cells, which detect light and are central to mammalian vision. Many retinal diseases occur as a result of inherited dysfunction of the rod and cone photoreceptor cells. Development and maintenance of photoreceptors requires appropriate regulation of the many genes specifically or highly expressed in these cells. Over the last decades, different experimental approaches have been developed to identify photoreceptor enriched genes. Recent progress in RNA analysis technology has generated large amounts of gene expression data relevant to retinal development. This paper assesses a machine learning methodology for supporting the identification of photoreceptor enriched genes based on expression data.
Based on the analysis of publicly-available gene expression data from the developing mouse retina generated by serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE), this paper presents a predictive methodology comprising several in silico models for detecting key complex features and relationships encoded in the data, which may be useful to distinguish genes in terms of their functional roles. In order to understand temporal patterns of photoreceptor gene expression during retinal development, a two-way cluster analysis was firstly performed. By clustering SAGE libraries, a hierarchical tree reflecting relationships between developmental stages was obtained. By clustering SAGE tags, a more comprehensive expression profile for photoreceptor cells was revealed. To demonstrate the usefulness of machine learning-based models in predicting functional associations from the SAGE data, three supervised classification models were compared. The results indicated that a relatively simple instance-based model (KStar model) performed significantly better than relatively more complex algorithms, e.g. neural networks. To deal with the problem of functional class imbalance occurring in the dataset, two data re-sampling techniques were studied. A random over-sampling method supported the implementation of the most powerful prediction models. The KStar model was also able to achieve higher predictive sensitivities and specificities using random over-sampling techniques.
The approaches assessed in this paper represent an efficient and relatively inexpensive in silico methodology for supporting large-scale analysis of photoreceptor gene expression by SAGE. They may be applied as complementary methodologies to support functional predictions before implementing more comprehensive, experimental prediction and validation methods. They may also be combined with other large-scale, data-driven methods to facilitate the inference of transcriptional regulatory networks in the developing retina. Furthermore, the methodology assessed may be applied to other data domains.
PMCID: PMC1421439  PMID: 16524483
9.  FIZ1 is part of the regulatory protein complex on active photoreceptor-specific gene promoters in vivo 
FIZ1 (Flt-3 Interacting Zinc-finger) is a broadly expressed protein of unknown function. We reported previously that in the mammalian retina, FIZ1 interacts with NRL (Neural-Retina Leucine-zipper), an essential transcriptional activator of rod photoreceptor-specific genes. The concentration of FIZ1 in the retina increases during photoreceptor terminal maturation, when two key transcription factors NRL and CRX (Cone-Rod Homeobox) become detectable on the promoters of photoreceptor-specific genes (i.e. Rhodopsin, Pde6b). To determine if FIZ1 is involved in regulating CRX-mediated transcriptional activation, we examined FIZ1 subcellular location in mouse neural retina, its ability to interact with CRX, and its association with CRX/NRL target genes.
FIZ1 is present in the nucleus of adult photoreceptors as well as other retinal neurons as shown by transmission electron microscopy with nano-gold labeling. FIZ1 and CRX were co-precipitated from retinal nuclear extracts with antibodies to either protein. Chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays revealed that FIZ1 is part of the protein complex on several rod and cone gene promoters, within photoreceptor cells of the mouse retina. FIZ1 complexes with CRX or NRL on known NRL- and CRX-responsive elements, as shown by electrophoretic mobility shift assays with FIZ1 antibody. FIZ1 can directly bind to CRX, as demonstrated using yeast two-hybrid and GST pull-down assays. Co-transfection assays demonstrated that FIZ1 increases CRX-mediated activation of Opsin test promoters. Quantitative ChIP analysis revealed an increased association of FIZ1 with the Rhodopsin promoter in adult (P-25) neural retina versus immature (P-3) neural retina. The quantity of transcriptionally active RNA Polymerase-II within the Rhodopsin gene (Rho) was significantly increased in the adult neural retina, compared to the immature retina.
FIZ1 directly interacts with CRX to enhance CRX's transactivation activity for target genes. Developmentally, in neural retina tissue, the increased association of FIZ1 with CRX target genes corresponds to an increased association of transcriptionally active Pol-II within the Rho gene. Together with previous findings, our results suggest that FIZ1 may act as a transcriptional co-regulator of photoreceptor-specific genes, recruited by at least two photoreceptor-specific transcription factors, CRX and NRL. Further studies are underway to elucidate the exact role of FIZ1 in photoreceptor gene expression, development and maintenance.
PMCID: PMC2571102  PMID: 18854042
10.  Different effects of valproic acid on photoreceptor loss in Rd1 and Rd10 retinal degeneration mice 
Molecular Vision  2014;20:1527-1544.
The histone-deacetylase inhibitor activity of valproic acid (VPA) was discovered after VPA’s adoption as an anticonvulsant. This generated speculation for VPA’s potential to increase the expression of neuroprotective genes. Clinical trials for retinitis pigmentosa (RP) are currently active, testing VPA’s potential to reduce photoreceptor loss; however, we lack information regarding the effects of VPA on available mammalian models of retinal degeneration, nor do we know if retinal gene expression is perturbed by VPA in a predictable way. Thus, we examined the effects of systemic VPA on neurotrophic factor and Nrl-related gene expression in the mouse retina and compared VPA’s effects on the rate of photoreceptor loss in two strains of mice, Pde6brd1/rd1 and Pde6brd10/rd10.
The expression of Bdnf, Gdnf, Cntf, and Fgf2 was measured by quantitative PCR after single and multiple doses of VPA (intraperitoneal) in wild-type and Pde6brd1/rd1 mice. Pde6brd1/rd1 mice were treated with daily doses of VPA during the period of rapid photoreceptor loss. Pde6brd10/rd10 mice were also treated with systemic VPA to compare in a partial loss-of-function model. Retinal morphology was assessed by virtual microscopy or spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT). Full-field and focal electroretinography (ERG) analysis were employed with Pde6brd10/rd10 mice to measure retinal function.
In wild-type postnatal mice, a single VPA dose increased the expression of Bdnf and Gdnf in the neural retina after 18 h, while the expression of Cntf was reduced by 70%. Daily dosing of wild-type mice from postnatal day P17 to P28 resulted in smaller increases in Bdnf and Gdnf expression, normal Cntf expression, and reduced Fgf2 expression (25%). Nrl gene expression was decreased by 50%, while Crx gene expression was not affected. Rod-specific expression of Mef2c and Nr2e3 was decreased substantially by VPA treatment, while Rhodopsin and Pde6b gene expression was normal at P28. Daily injections with VPA (P9–P21) dramatically slowed the loss of rod photoreceptors in Pde6brd1/rd1 mice. At age P21, VPA-treated mice had several extra rows of rod photoreceptor nuclei compared to PBS-injected littermates. Dosing started later (P14) or dosing every second day also rescued photoreceptors. In contrast, systemic VPA treatment of Pde6brd10/rd10 mice (P17–P28) reduced visual function that correlated with a slight increase in photoreceptor loss. Treating Pde6brd10/rd10 mice earlier (P9–P21) also failed to rescue photoreceptors. Treating wild-type mice earlier (P9–P21) reduced the number of photoreceptors in VPA-treated mice by 20% compared to PBS-treated animals.
A single systemic dose of VPA can change retinal neurotrophic factor and rod-specific gene expression in the immature retina. Daily VPA treatment from P17 to P28 can also alter gene expression in the mature neural retina. While daily treatment with VPA could significantly reduce photoreceptor loss in the rd1 model, VPA treatment slightly accelerated photoreceptor loss in the rd10 model. The apparent rescue of photoreceptors in the rd1 model was not the result of producing more photoreceptors before degeneration. In fact, daily systemic VPA was toxic to wild-type photoreceptors when started at P9. However, the effective treatment period for Pde6brd1/rd1 mice (P9–P21) has significant overlap with the photoreceptor maturation period, which complicates the use of the rd1 model for testing of VPA’s efficacy. In contrast, VPA treatment started after P17 did not cause photoreceptor loss in wild-type mice. Thus, the acceleration of photoreceptor loss in the rd10 model may be more relevant where both photoreceptor loss and VPA treatment (P17–P28) started when the central retina was mature.
PMCID: PMC4225157  PMID: 25489226
11.  Stage and Gene Specific Signatures Defined by Histones H3K4me2 and H3K27me3 Accompany Mammalian Retina Maturation In Vivo 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(10):e46867.
The epigenetic contribution to neurogenesis is largely unknown. There is, however, growing evidence that posttranslational modification of histones is a dynamic process that shows many correlations with gene expression. Here we have followed the genome-wide distribution of two important histone H3 modifications, H3K4me2 and H3K27me3 during late mouse retina development. The retina provides an ideal model for these studies because of its well-characterized structure and development and also the extensive studies of the retinal transcriptome and its development. We found that a group of genes expressed only in mature rod photoreceptors have a unique signature consisting of de-novo accumulation of H3K4me2, both at the transcription start site (TSS) and over the whole gene, that correlates with the increase in transcription, but no accumulation of H3K27me3 at any stage. By in silico analysis of this unique signature we have identified a larger group of genes that may be selectively expressed in mature rod photoreceptors. We also found that the distribution of H3K4me2 and H3K27me3 on the genes widely expressed is not always associated with their transcriptional levels. Different histone signatures for retinal genes with the same gene expression pattern suggest the diversities of epigenetic regulation. Genes without H3K4me2 and H3K27me3 accumulation at any stage represent a large group of transcripts never expressed in retina. The epigenetic signatures defined by H3K4me2 and H3K27me3 can distinguish cell-type specific genes from widespread transcripts and may be reflective of cell specificity during retina maturation. In addition to the developmental patterns seen in wild type retina, the dramatic changes of histone modification in the retinas of mutant animals lacking rod photoreceptors provide a tool to study the epigenetic changes in other cell types and thus describe a broad range of epigenetic events in a solid tissue in vivo.
PMCID: PMC3467275  PMID: 23056497
12.  Distinct Signature of Altered Homeostasis in Aging Rod Photoreceptors: Implications for Retinal Diseases 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(11):e13885.
Advanced age contributes to clinical manifestations of many retinopathies and represents a major risk factor for age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of visual impairment and blindness in the elderly. Rod photoreceptors are especially vulnerable to genetic defects and changes in microenvironment, and are among the first neurons to die in normal aging and in many retinal degenerative diseases. The molecular mechanisms underlying rod photoreceptor vulnerability and potential biomarkers of the aging process in this highly specialized cell type are unknown.
Methodology/Principal Findings
To discover aging-associated adaptations that may influence rod function, we have generated gene expression profiles of purified rod photoreceptors from mouse retina at young adult to early stages of aging (1.5, 5, and 12 month old mice). We identified 375 genes that showed differential expression in rods from 5 and 12 month old mouse retina compared to that of 1.5 month old retina. Quantitative RT-PCR experiments validated expression change for a majority of the 25 genes that were examined. Macroanalysis of differentially expressed genes using gene class testing and protein interaction networks revealed overrepresentation of cellular pathways that are potentially photoreceptor-specific (angiogenesis and lipid/retinoid metabolism), in addition to age-related pathways previously described in several tissue types (oxidative phosphorylation, stress and immune response).
Our study suggests a progressive shift in cellular homeostasis that may underlie aging-associated functional decline in rod photoreceptors and contribute to a more permissive state for pathological processes involved in retinal diseases.
PMCID: PMC2975639  PMID: 21079736
13.  Temporal ChIP-on-Chip of RNA-Polymerase-II to detect novel gene activation events during photoreceptor maturation 
Molecular Vision  2010;16:252-271.
During retinal development, post-mitotic neural progenitor cells must activate thousands of genes to complete synaptogenesis and terminal maturation. While many of these genes are known, others remain beyond the sensitivity of expression microarray analysis. Some of these elusive gene activation events can be detected by mapping changes in RNA polymerase-II (Pol-II) association around transcription start sites.
High-resolution (35 bp) chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP)-on-chip was used to map changes in Pol-II binding surrounding 26,000 gene transcription start sites during photoreceptor maturation of the mouse neural retina, comparing postnatal age 25 (P25) to P2. Coverage was 10–12 kb per transcription start site, including 2.5 kb downstream. Pol-II-active regions were mapped to the mouse genomic DNA sequence by using computational methods (Tiling Analysis Software-TAS program), and the ratio of maximum Pol-II binding (P25/P2) was calculated for each gene. A validation set of 36 genes (3%), representing a full range of Pol-II signal ratios (P25/P2), were examined with quantitative ChIP assays for transcriptionally active Pol-II. Gene expression assays were also performed for 19 genes of the validation set, again on independent samples. FLT-3 Interacting Zinc-finger-1 (FIZ1), a zinc-finger protein that associates with active promoter complexes of photoreceptor-specific genes, provided an additional ChIP marker to highlight genes activated in the mature neural retina. To demonstrate the use of ChIP-on-chip predictions to find novel gene activation events, four additional genes were selected for quantitative PCR analysis (qRT–PCR analysis); these four genes have human homologs located in unidentified retinal disease regions: Solute carrier family 25 member 33 (Slc25a33), Lysophosphatidylcholine acyltransferase 1 (Lpcat1), Coiled-coil domain-containing 126 (Ccdc126), and ADP-ribosylation factor-like 4D (Arl4d).
ChIP-on-chip Pol-II peak signal ratios >1.8 predicted increased amounts of transcribing Pol-II and increased expression with an estimated 97% accuracy, based on analysis of the validation gene set. Using this threshold ratio, 1,101 genes were predicted to experience increased binding of Pol-II in their promoter regions during terminal maturation of the neural retina. Over 800 of these gene activations were additional to those previously reported by microarray analysis. Slc25a33, Lpcat1, Ccdc126, and Arl4d increased expression significantly (p<0.001) during photoreceptor maturation. Expression of all four genes was diminished in adult retinas lacking rod photoreceptors (Rd1 mice) compared to normal retinas (90% loss for Ccdc126 and Arl4d). For rhodopsin (Rho), a marker of photoreceptor maturation, two regions of maximum Pol-II signal corresponded to the upstream rhodopsin enhancer region and the rhodopsin proximal promoter region.
High-resolution maps of Pol-II binding around transcription start sites were generated for the postnatal mouse retina; which can predict activation increases for a specific gene of interest. Novel gene activation predictions are enriched for biologic functions relevant to vision, neural function, and chromatin regulation. Use of the data set to detect novel activation increases was demonstrated by expression analysis for several genes that have human homologs located within unidentified retinal disease regions: Slc25a33, Lpcat1, Ccdc126, and Arl4d. Analysis of photoreceptor-deficient retinas indicated that all four genes are expressed in photoreceptors. Genome-wide maps of Pol-II binding were developed for visual access in the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Genome Browser and its eye-centric version EyeBrowse (National Eye Institute-NEI). Single promoter resolution of Pol-II distribution patterns suggest the Rho enhancer region and the Rho proximal promoter region become closely associated with the activated gene’s promoter complex.
PMCID: PMC2822553  PMID: 20161818
14.  A Hybrid Photoreceptor Expressing Both Rod and Cone Genes in a Mouse Model of Enhanced S-Cone Syndrome 
PLoS Genetics  2005;1(2):e11.
Rod and cone photoreceptors subserve vision under dim and bright light conditions, respectively. The differences in their function are thought to stem from their different gene expression patterns, morphologies, and synaptic connectivities. In this study, we have examined the photoreceptor cells of the retinal degeneration 7 (rd7) mutant mouse, a model for the human enhanced S-cone syndrome (ESCS). This mutant carries a spontaneous deletion in the mouse ortholog of NR2E3, an orphan nuclear receptor transcription factor mutated in ESCS. Employing microarray and in situ hybridization analysis we have found that the rd7 retina contains a modestly increased number of S-opsin–expressing cells that ultrastructurally appear to be normal cones. Strikingly, the majority of the photoreceptors in the rd7 retina represent a morphologically hybrid cell type that expresses both rod- and cone-specific genes. In addition, in situ hybridization screening of genes shown to be up-regulated in the rd7 mutant retina by microarray identified ten new cone-specific or cone-enriched genes with a wide range of biochemical functions, including two genes specifically involved in glucose/glycogen metabolism. We suggest that the abnormal electroretinograms, slow retinal degeneration, and retinal dysmorphology seen in humans with ESCS may, in part, be attributable to the aberrant function of a hybrid photoreceptor cell type similar to that identified in this study. The functional diversity of the novel cone-specific genes identified here indicates molecular differences between rods and cones extending far beyond those previously discovered.
Vision begins with light entering the eye. This light is projected onto the retina, a thin neural structure lining the inside of the eye. Photoreceptors, among the most important cell types in the retina, are the first to receive the incoming rays of light. In mammals, there are two types of photoreceptors: rods and cones. Rods are specialized for nighttime vision, and cones for daytime and color vision. In this study, the authors examined the photoreceptors of a mouse with a gene mutation that causes photoreceptors to develop abnormally. Humans with a similar mutation have a form of blindness called enhanced S-cone syndrome (ESCS). Surprisingly, the majority of photoreceptors in this mutant mouse were found to have features of both normal rods and cones. It is possible that the abnormal features of these photoreceptors predispose them to undergo premature death. If this model accurately reflects the situation in human patients with ESCS, it may provide an explanation for the loss of vision seen in this disease. This study also elucidated previously unknown molecular differences between normal rods and cones. This new knowledge may contribute to a better overall understanding of the mechanisms underlying night, day, and color vision.
PMCID: PMC1186732  PMID: 16110338
15.  Plasticity of photoreceptor-generating retinal progenitors revealed by prolonged retinoic acid exposure 
Retinoic acid (RA) is important for vertebrate eye morphogenesis and is a regulator of photoreceptor development in the retina. In the zebrafish, RA treatment of postmitotic photoreceptor precursors has been shown to promote the differentiation of rods and red-sensitive cones while inhibiting the differentiation of blue- and UV-sensitive cones. The roles played by RA and its receptors in modifying photoreceptor fate remain to be determined.
Treatment of zebrafish embryos with RA, beginning at the time of retinal progenitor cell proliferation and prior to photoreceptor terminal mitosis, resulted in a significant alteration of rod and cone mosaic patterns, suggesting an increase in the production of rods at the expense of red cones. Quantitative pattern analyses documented increased density of rod photoreceptors and reduced local spacing between rod cells, suggesting rods were appearing in locations normally occupied by cone photoreceptors. Cone densities were correspondingly reduced and cone photoreceptor mosaics displayed expanded and less regular spacing. These results were consistent with replacement of approximately 25% of positions normally occupied by red-sensitive cones, with additional rods. Analysis of embryos from a RA-signaling reporter line determined that multiple retinal cell types, including mitotic cells and differentiating rods and cones, are capable of directly responding to RA. The RA receptors RXRγ and RARαb are expressed in patterns consistent with mediating the effects of RA on photoreceptors. Selective knockdown of RARαb expression resulted in a reduction in endogenous RA signaling in the retina. Knockdown of RARαb also caused a reduced production of rods that was not restored by simultaneous treatments with RA.
These data suggest that developing retinal cells have a dynamic sensitivity to RA during retinal neurogenesis. In zebrafish RA may influence the rod vs. cone cell fate decision. The RARαb receptor mediates the effects of endogenous, as well as exogenous RA, on rod development.
PMCID: PMC3189157  PMID: 21878117
16.  Interaction between the Photoreceptor-Specific Tubby-like Protein 1 and the Neuronal-Specific GTPase Dynamin-1 
Tubby-like proteins (TULPs) are a family of four proteins, two of which have been linked to neurosensory disease phenotypes. TULP1 is a photoreceptor-specific protein that is mutated in retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited retinal disease characterized by the degeneration of rod and cone photoreceptor cells. To investigate the function of TULP1 in maintaining the health of photoreceptors, the authors sought the identification of interacting proteins.
Immunoprecipitation from retinal lysates, followed by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and in vitro binding assays, were used to identify TULP1 binding partners. RT-PCR was performed on total RNA from wild-type mouse retina to identify the Dynamin-1 isoform expressed in the retina. Immunocytochemistry was used to determine the localization of TULP1 and Dynamin-1 in photoreceptor cells. Electroretinography (ERG) and light microscopy were used to phenotype tulp1–/– mice at a young age.
Immunoprecipitation from retinal lysate identified Dynamin-1 as a possible TULP1 binding partner. GST pull-down assays further supported an interaction between TULP1 and Dynamin-1. In photoreceptor cells, Dynamin-1 and TULP1 colocalized primarily to the outer plexiform layer, where photoreceptor terminals synapse on second-order neurons and, to a lesser extent, to the inner segments, where polarized protein translocation occurs. ERG analyses in young tulp1–/– mice indicated a decreased b-wave at ages when the retina retained a full complement of photoreceptor cells.
These data indicated that TULP1 interacts with Dynamin-1 and suggested that TULP1 is involved in the vesicular trafficking of photoreceptor proteins, both at the nerve terminal during synaptic transmission and at the inner segment during protein translocation to the outer segment. These results also raised the possibility that normal synaptic function requires TULP1, and they motivate a closer look at synaptic architecture in the developing tulp1–/– retina.
PMCID: PMC3021943  PMID: 17525220
17.  Patient-specific iPSC-derived photoreceptor precursor cells as a means to investigate retinitis pigmentosa 
eLife  2013;2:e00824.
Next-generation and Sanger sequencing were combined to identify disease-causing USH2A mutations in an adult patient with autosomal recessive RP. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), generated from the patient’s keratinocytes, were differentiated into multi-layer eyecup-like structures with features of human retinal precursor cells. The inner layer of the eyecups contained photoreceptor precursor cells that expressed photoreceptor markers and exhibited axonemes and basal bodies characteristic of outer segments. Analysis of the USH2A transcripts of these cells revealed that one of the patient’s mutations causes exonification of intron 40, a translation frameshift and a premature stop codon. Western blotting revealed upregulation of GRP78 and GRP94, suggesting that the patient’s other USH2A variant (Arg4192His) causes disease through protein misfolding and ER stress. Transplantation into 4-day-old immunodeficient Crb1−/− mice resulted in the formation of morphologically and immunohistochemically recognizable photoreceptor cells, suggesting that the mutations in this patient act via post-developmental photoreceptor degeneration.
eLife digest
Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited disorder in which the gradual degeneration of light-sensitive cells in the outer retina, known as photoreceptors, causes a progressive loss of sight. Retinitis pigmentosa can also occur as part of a wider syndrome: patients with Usher syndrome, for example, suffer from early-onset deafness and then develop retinitis pigmentosa later in life. Usher syndrome is caused by mutations in any of more than ten genes, but the most commonly affected is USH2A, which encodes a protein called usherin. Mutations in USH2A can also cause retinitis pigmentosa on its own.
Clinical trials are underway to determine whether it is possible to treat various forms of inherited retinal degeneration using gene therapy. This involves inserting a functional copy of the gene associated with the disease into an inactivated virus, which is then injected into the eye. The virus carries the target gene to the light-sensitive photoreceptor cells where it can replace the faulty gene. This could be particularly useful for conditions such as Usher syndrome, in which the early-onset deafness makes it possible to diagnose retinitis pigmentosa before substantial numbers of photoreceptor cells have been lost.
For gene therapy to become a widely used strategy for the treatment of retinal degenerative disease, identification and functional interrogation of the disease-causing gene/mutations will be critical. This is especially true for large highly polymorphic genes such as USH2A that often have mutations that are difficult to identify by standard sequencing techniques. Likewise, viruses that can carry large amounts of genetic material, or endogenous genome editing approaches, will need to be developed and validated in an efficient patient-specific model system.
Tucker et al. might have found a way to address these problems. In their study, they used skin cells from a retinitis pigmentosa patient with mutations in USH2A to produce induced pluripotent stem cells. These are cells that can be made to develop into a wide variety of mature cell types, depending on the exact conditions in which they are cultured. Tucker et al. used these stem cells to generate photoreceptor precursor cells, which they transplanted into the retinas of immune-suppressed mice. The cells developed into normal-looking photoreceptor cells that expressed photoreceptor-specific proteins.
These results have several implications. First, they support the idea that stem cell-derived retinal photoreceptor cells, generated from patients with unknown mutations, can be used to identify disease-causing genes and to interrogate disease pathophysiology. This will allow for a more rapid development of gene therapy strategies. Second, they demonstrate that USH2A mutations cause retinitis pigmentosa by affecting photoreceptors later in life rather than by altering their development. This suggests that it should, via early intervention, be possible to treat retinitis pigmentosa in adult patients with this form of the disease. Third, the technique could be used to generate animal models in which to study the effects of specific disease-causing mutations on cellular development and function. Finally, this study suggests that skin cells from adults with retinitis pigmentosa could be used to generate immunologically matched photoreceptor cells that can be transplanted back into the same patients to restore their sight. Many questions remain to be answered before this technique can be moved into clinical trials but, in the meantime, it will provide a new tool for research into this major cause of blindness.
PMCID: PMC3755341  PMID: 23991284
next-generation sequencing; retinal degeneration; induced pluripotent stem cells; retinal transplantation; retinal cell differentiation; retinitis pigmentosa; Human; Mouse
18.  Microarray Analysis of XOPS-mCFP Zebrafish Retina Identifies Genes Associated with Rod Photoreceptor Degeneration and Regeneration 
This report presents an analysis of the retinal gene expression profile in a transgenic strain of zebrafish that experiences a continuous cycle of rod photoreceptor development and regeneration.
XOPS-mCFP transgenic zebrafish experience a continual cycle of rod photoreceptor development and degeneration throughout life, making them a useful model for investigating the molecular determinants of rod photoreceptor regeneration. The purpose of this study was to compare the gene expression profiles of wild-type and XOPS-mCFP retinas and identify genes that may contribute to the regeneration of the rods.
Adult wild-type and XOPS-mCFP retinal mRNA was subjected to microarray analysis. Pathway analysis was used to identify biologically relevant processes that were significantly represented in the dataset. Expression changes were verified by RT-PCR. Selected genes were further examined during retinal development and in adult retinas by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry and in a transgenic fluorescent reporter line.
More than 600 genes displayed significant expression changes in XOPS-mCFP retinas compared with expression in wild-type controls. Many of the downregulated genes were associated with phototransduction, whereas upregulated genes were associated with several biological functions, including cell cycle, DNA replication and repair, and cell development and death. RT-PCR analysis of a subset of these genes confirmed the microarray results. Three transcription factors (sox11b, insm1a, and c-myb), displaying increased expression in XOPS-mCFP retinas, were also expressed throughout retinal development and in the persistently neurogenic ciliary marginal zone.
This study identified numerous gene expression changes in response to rod degeneration in zebrafish and further suggests a role for the transcriptional regulators sox11b, insm1a, and c-myb in both retinal development and rod photoreceptor regeneration.
PMCID: PMC3080176  PMID: 21217106
19.  Developing rods transplanted into the degenerating retina of Crx-knockout mice exhibit neural activity similar to native photoreceptors 
Stem cells (Dayton, Ohio)  2013;31(6):1149-1159.
Replacement of dysfunctional or dying photoreceptors offers a promising approach for retinal neurodegenerative diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Several studies have demonstrated the integration and differentiation of developing rod photoreceptors when transplanted in wild type or degenerating retina; however, the physiology and function of the donor cells are not adequately defined. Here, we describe the physiological properties of developing rod photoreceptors that are tagged with GFP driven by the promoter of rod differentiation factor, Nrl. GFP-tagged developing rods show Ca2+ responses and rectifier outward currents that are smaller than those observed in fully developed photoreceptors, suggesting their immature developmental state. These immature rods also exhibit hyperpolarization-activated current (Ih) induced by the activation of hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated (HCN) channels. When transplanted into the subretinal space of wild type or retinal degeneration mice, GFP-tagged developing rods can integrate into the photoreceptor outer nuclear layer in wild-type mouse retina, and exhibit Ca2+ responses and membrane current comparable to native rod photoreceptors. A proportion of grafted rods develop rhodopsin-positive outer segment-like structures within two weeks after transplantation into the retina of Crx-knockout mice, and produce rectifier outward current and Ih upon membrane depolarization and hyperpolarization. GFP-positive rods derived from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells also display similar membrane current Ih as native developing rod photoreceptors, express rod-specific phototransduction genes, and HCN-1 channels. We conclude that Nrl-promoter driven GFP-tagged donor photoreceptors exhibit physiological characteristics of rods and that iPS cell-derived rods in vitro may provide a renewable source for cell replacement therapy.
PMCID: PMC4540234  PMID: 23495178
20.  Photoreceptor structure and function is maintained in organotypic cultures of mouse retinas 
Molecular Vision  2010;16:1178-1185.
Retina organ cultures can be used as a valuable tool to study retina development ex vivo. Comparison between culture methods has revealed that timing the start of the culture and the presence of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) are critical for the development of the rods and cones, which are the two types of photoreceptors; rods can develop in the absence of the RPE, cones cannot. One of the necessary compounds produced by the RPE and essential for cone development and survival is the chromophore 11-cis retinal. Here, we further examined rod and cone development, chromophore production by the RPE, and photoreceptor signaling to the inner retina under organ culture conditions.
Retina-RPE cultures were prepared from 7-day-old C57BL/6 pups and maintained in culture for 11 days. Rod and cone structure was analyzed by immunohistochemistry, and cell-specific mRNA expression was analyzed by quantitative real-time PCR. We quantified 11-cis retinal spectrophotometrically by measuring rhodopsin. Signal transmission in the rod pathway was studied by analyzing c-fos expression in the inner retina in response to stroboscopic illumination.
In retina-RPE cultures analyzed after 11 days in culture, rod and cone numbers exhibited a similar ratio to those observed in the intact animal. Although photoreceptor outer segments were shorter when grown ex vivo, membrane proteins, such as cone opsin and transducin, were localized appropriately to the outer segment. Relative 11-cis retinal production ex vivo plateaued after 7 days in culture, resulting in approximately 30% of the in vivo level by day 11. The retinas responded to prolonged stroboscopic illumination with the normal nuclear expression of c-fos in cells in the inner retina.
Mouse retinal structure is maintained in retina–RPE organ cultures. The RPE in organ cultures produces sufficient amounts of 11-cis retinal to promote cone development and support signal transmission in the rod pathway. Organ cultures may be a powerful low-throughput screening tool to identify novel agents to promote photoreceptor cell survival and signaling.
PMCID: PMC2901185  PMID: 20664685
21.  Protective Gene Expression Changes Elicited by an Inherited Defect in Photoreceptor Structure 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(2):e31371.
Inherited defects in retinal photoreceptor structure impair visual transduction, disrupt relationship with the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), and compromise cell viability. A variety of progressive retinal degenerative diseases can result, and knowledge of disease etiology remains incomplete. To investigate pathogenic mechanisms in such instances, we have characterized rod photoreceptor and retinal gene expression changes in response to a defined insult to photoreceptor structure, using the retinal degeneration slow (rds) mouse model. Global gene expression profiling was performed on flow-sorted rds and wild-type rod photoreceptors immediately prior and subsequent to times at which OSs are normally elaborated. Dysregulated genes were identified via microarray hybridization, and selected candidates were validated using quantitative PCR analyses. Both the array and qPCR data revealed that gene expression changes were generally modest and dispersed amongst a variety of known functional networks. Although genes showing major (>5-fold) differential expression were identified in a few instances, nearly all displayed transient temporal profiles, returning to WT levels by postnatal day (P) 21. These observations suggest that major defects in photoreceptor cell structure may induce early homeostatic responses, which function in a protective manner to promote cell viability. We identified a single key gene, Egr1, that was dysregulated in a sustained fashion in rds rod photoreceptors and retina. Egr1 upregulation was associated with microglial activation and migration into the outer retina at times subsequent to the major peak of photoreceptor cell death. Interestingly, this response was accompanied by neurotrophic factor upregulation. We hypothesize that activation of Egr1 and neurotrophic factors may represent a protective immune mechanism which contributes to the characteristically slow retinal degeneration of the rds mouse model.
PMCID: PMC3282697  PMID: 22363631
22.  Protein changes in the retina following experimental retinal detachment in rabbits 
Molecular Vision  2011;17:2634-2648.
Retinal detachment leads to the widespread cellular remodeling of the retina. The purpose of this study was to identify protein changes that accompany these cellular alterations by comparing the proteomic profiles of sham and experimentally detached rabbit retina. Elucidation of the proteins most dramatically affected by retinal detachment would add further understanding to the pathophysiology of this condition, and potentially identify therapeutic targets useful in preventing the deleterious effects of detachment, including photoreceptor cell death and the activation of non-neuronal microglial and Müller cells.
Retinal detachments were induced in the right eyes of six New Zealand Red pigmented rabbits. Sham surgery was performed in the right eyes of six other rabbits that were used as controls. At seven days, the eyes were enucleated and the retinal tissue was harvested. The individual retinal samples were subjected to high resolution two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Differentially expressed protein spots were processed for identification by liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. Further investigation was undertaken with western blotting, and immunocytochemical studies on a further set of four sham and four detached retinas.
Eighteen protein spots were found to be at least twofold differentially expressed between the sham and detached retinas. These protein spots were identified as: vimentin; tubulin β-2C; fragments of α-enolase; fructose-bisphosphate aldolase A; ATP synthase subunit β; mitochondrial creatine kinase; N-terminal fragments of albumin; prohibitin; and transducin-β1.
The differentially expressed proteins determined in this study may play an important role in the cellular responses of the retina after its detachment, subsequent ability to recover following surgical reattachment, as well as in serious complications such as subretinal fibrosis and proliferative vitreoretinopathy.
PMCID: PMC3209431  PMID: 22065916
23.  Photoreceptor-Like Cells in Transgenic Mouse Eye 
Recent success of rescuing vision by photoreceptor replacement in mouse models of photoreceptor degeneration intensifies the need to identify approaches to generate photoreceptors cells for future replacement therapies. We explored the possibility of whether in the mouse eye photoreceptor-like cells could arise from the RPE experimentally manipulated to express a regulatory gene participating in transcriptional networks leading to photoreceptor genesis during retinal development.
Transgenic mice were generated with a DNA construct that would express neurogenin1 from RPE bestrophin-1 promoter or neurogenin3 from RPE65 promoter. Transgenic mice were examined with histology and immunohistology for the presence of photoreceptor-like cells and for the presence of cells that might represent transitional stages in RPE-to-photoreceptor reprogramming. Explant culture of “sclera+choroid+RPE” eyecup was used to examine whether cells with photoreceptor traits could arise from the eyecup derived from transgenic mice.
Transgenic animals showed varied degrees of phenotype manifestation. Approximately 60% of offspring from ∼50% of founders contained photoreceptor-like cells in the subretinal space. These cells expressed photoreceptor proteins recoverin, red opsin, and rhodopsin, and displayed morphologic similarities to photoreceptors. In these eyes, the RPE was maintained. Cells seemingly amid RPE-to-photoreceptor transformation were observed in young and aged mice, suggesting old animals were responsive to the reprogramming scheme. De novo generation of photoreceptor-like cells was detected in “sclera+choroid+RPE” eyecup explants derived from adult animals.
Our results point to a potential way to generate photoreceptor cells in situ in adult mammalian eyes.
This study examined whether the RPE's proliferation and plasticity could be channeled into photoreceptor generation. Mouse eyes transgenic to express a neurogenin driven by an RPE promoter contained extra, photoreceptor-like cells in the subretinal space.
PMCID: PMC3719446  PMID: 23847312
photoreceptors; regeneration; reprogramming; mammalian retina
24.  Temporal order of bipolar cell genesis in the neural retina 
Neural Development  2008;3:2.
Retinal bipolar cells comprise a diverse group of neurons. Cone bipolar cells and rod bipolar cells are so named for their connections with cone and rod photoreceptors, respectively. Morphological criteria have been established that distinguish nine types of cone bipolar cells and one type of rod bipolar cell in mouse and rat. While anatomical and physiological aspects of bipolar types have been actively studied, little is known about the sequence of events that leads to bipolar cell type specification and the potential relationship this process may have with synapse formation in the outer plexiform layer. In this study, we have examined the birth order of rod and cone bipolar cells in the developing mouse and rat in vivo.
Using retroviral lineage analysis with the histochemical marker alkaline phosphatase, the percentage of cone and rod bipolar cells born on postnatal day 0 (P0), P4, and P6 were determined, based upon the well characterized morphology of these cells in the adult rat retina. In this in vivo experiment, we have demonstrated that cone bipolar genesis clearly precedes rod bipolar genesis. In addition, in the postnatal mouse retina, using a combination of tritiated-thymidine birthdating and immunohistochemistry to distinguish bipolar types, we have similarly found that cone bipolar genesis precedes rod bipolar genesis. The tritiated-thymidine birthdating studies also included quantification of the birth of all postnatally generated retinal cell types in the mouse.
Using two independent in vivo methodologies in rat and mouse retina, we have demonstrated that there are distinct waves of genesis of the two major bipolar cell types, with cone bipolar genesis preceding rod bipolar genesis. These waves of bipolar genesis correspond to the order of genesis of the presynaptic photoreceptor cell types.
PMCID: PMC2248187  PMID: 18215319
25.  The extracellular matrix component WIF-1 is expressed during, and can modulate, retinal development 
We have shown previously that components of the extracellular matrix (ECM) modulate neuronal development. Here, we searched for additional ECM elements that might play roles in retinal histogenesis and identified a secreted glycoprotein that is heavily expressed in the retina. This molecule, named by others Wnt Inhibitory Factor-1 (WIF-1), is expressed during and after the period of rod photoreceptor morphogenesis in the mouse. We show that a potential WIF-1 ligand, Wnt4, as well as a potential Wnt4 receptor, fzd4, and a potential Wnt4 coreceptor, LRP6, are expressed in the region of, and at the time of, rod photoreceptor genesis. WIF-1 and Wnt4 are coexpressed during retinal development and bind to each other; therefore, they are likely to interact during rod production. WIF-1 protein inhibits rod production, and anti-WIF-1 antibodies increase rod production; in contrast, Wnt4 promotes rod production. Together, these data suggest that WIF-1 and Wnt4, both components of the ECM, regulate mammalian photoreceptor development.
PMCID: PMC2935895  PMID: 15555925

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