Dominant mutations occurring in the high-affinity Ca2+-binding sites (EF-hands) of the GUCA1A gene encoding guanylate cyclase-activating protein 1 (GCAP1) cause slowly progressing cone-rod dystrophy (CORD) in a dozen families worldwide. We developed a nonallele-specific adeno-associated virus (AAV)-based RNAi knockdown strategy to rescue the retina degeneration caused by GCAP1 mutations. We generated three genomic transgenic mouse lines expressing wildtype (WT) and L151F mutant mouse GCAP1 with or without a C-terminal GFP fusion. Under control of endogenous regulatory elements, the transgenes were expressed specifically in mouse photoreceptors. GCAP1(L151F) and GCAP1(L151F)-GFP transgenic mice presented with a late onset and slowly progressive photoreceptor degeneration, similar to that observed in human GCAP1-CORD patients. Transgenic expression of WT GCAP1-EGFP in photoreceptors had no adverse effect. Toward therapy development, a highly effective anti-mGCAP1 shRNA, mG1hp4, was selected from four candidate shRNAs using an in-vitro screening assay. Subsequently a self-complementary (sc) AAV serotype 2/8 expressing mG1hp4 was delivered subretinally to GCAP1(L151F)-GFP transgenic mice. Knockdown of the GCAP1(L151F)-GFP transgene product was visualized by fluorescence live imaging in the scAAV2/8-mG1hp4-treated retinas. Concomitant with the mutant GCAP1-GFP fusion protein, endogenous GCAP1 decreased as well in treated retinas. We propose nonallele-specific RNAi knockdown of GCAP1 as a general therapeutic strategy to rescue any GCAP1-based dominant cone-rod dystrophy in human patients.
Among peripheral regulatory T cells, CD8+ T cells also play an important role in the maintenance of immune homeostasis. A subset of CD8+ Treg that express αβTCR and CD8αα homodimers can recognize TCR-derived peptides in the context of the class Ib MHC molecule Qa-1. To gain a better understanding of the nature and phenotype of CD8αα+TCRαβ+ Treg, a global gene expression profiling using microarray, real-time quantitative PCR, and flowcytometry analysis was performed using functional Treg clones and lines. Our data show that CD8+ Treg shared gene profile expressed by innate-like lymphocytes, including murine intraepithelial lymphocytes and thymic CD8αα+TCRαβ+ T cell populations. Additionally, this subset displays differential expression of several key regulatory molecules, including CD200. CD8αα+ Treg expressed higher levels of a number of NK cell related receptors and molecules belonging to the TNF superfamily. Collectively, peripheral class Ib-reactive CD8αα+TCRαβ+ T cells represent a unique regulatory population different from class Ia MHC-restricted conventional T cells. These studies have important implications for the regulatory mechanisms mediated by the CD8+ Treg population in general.
CD8+ Treg; EAE; Microarray; Innate cells; Qa-1/HLA-E
Carriers of blue cone monochromacy have fewer cone photoreceptors than normal. Here we examine how this disruption at the level of the retina affects visual function and cortical organization in these individuals. Visual resolution and contrast sensitivity was measured at the preferred retinal locus of fixation and visual resolution was tested at two eccentric locations (2.5° and 8°) with spectacle correction only. Adaptive optics corrected resolution acuity and cone spacing were simultaneously measured at several locations within the central fovea with adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO). Fixation stability was assessed by extracting eye motion data from AOSLO videos. Retinotopic mapping using fMRI was carried out to estimate the area of early cortical regions, including that of the foveal confluence. Without adaptive optics correction, BCM carriers appeared to have normal visual function, with normal contrast sensitivity and visual resolution, but with AO-correction, visual resolution was significantly worse than normal. This resolution deficit is not explained by cone loss alone and is suggestive of an associated loss of retinal ganglion cells. However, despite evidence suggesting a reduction in the number of retinal ganglion cells, retinotopic mapping showed no reduction in the cortical area of the foveal confluence. These results suggest that ganglion cell density may not govern the foveal overrepresentation in the cortex. We propose that it is not the number of afferents, but rather the content of the information relayed to the cortex from the retina across the visual field that governs cortical magnification, as under normal viewing conditions this information is similar in both BCM carriers and normal controls.
Cone photoreceptors are the primary initiator of visual transduction in the human retina. Dysfunction or death of rod photoreceptors precedes cone loss in many retinal and macular degenerative diseases, suggesting a rod-dependent trophic support for cone survival. Rod differentiation and homeostasis are dependent on the basic motif leucine zipper transcription factor NRL. The loss of Nrl (Nrl−/−) in mice results in a retina with predominantly S-opsin containing cones that exhibit molecular and functional characteristics of WT cones. Here we report that Nrl−/− retina undergoes a rapid but transient period of degeneration in early adulthood, with cone apoptosis, retinal detachment, alterations in retinal vessel structure, and activation and translocation of retinal microglia. However, cone degeneration stabilizes by four months of age, resulting in a thinner but intact outer nuclear layer with residual cones expressing S- and M-opsins and a preserved photopic ERG. At this stage, microglia translocate back to the inner retina and reacquire a quiescent morphology. Gene profiling analysis during the period of transient degeneration reveals misregulation of genes related to stress response and inflammation, implying their involvement in cone death. The Nrl−/− mouse illustrates the long-term viability of cones in the absence of rods and RPE defects in a rodless retina. We propose that Nrl−/− retina may serve as a model for elucidating mechanisms of cone homeostasis and degeneration that would be relevant to understanding diseases of the cone-dominant human macula.
Background Variation in the complement factor H gene (CFH) is associated with risk of late age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Previous studies have been case–control studies in populations of European ancestry with little differentiation in AMD subtype, and insufficient power to confirm or refute effect modification by smoking.
Methods To precisely quantify the association of the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP rs1061170, ‘Y402H’) with risk of AMD among studies with differing study designs, participant ancestry and AMD grade and to investigate effect modification by smoking, we report two unpublished genetic association studies (n = 2759) combined with data from 24 published studies (26 studies, 26 494 individuals, including 14 174 cases of AMD) of European ancestry, 10 of which provided individual-level data used to test gene–smoking interaction; and 16 published studies from non-European ancestry.
Results In individuals of European ancestry, there was a significant association between Y402H and late-AMD with a per-allele odds ratio (OR) of 2.27 [95% confidence interval (CI) 2.10–2.45; P = 1.1 x 10−161]. There was no evidence of effect modification by smoking (P = 0.75). The frequency of Y402H varied by ancestral origin and the association with AMD in non-Europeans was less clear, limited by paucity of studies.
Conclusion The Y402H variant confers a 2-fold higher risk of late-AMD per copy in individuals of European descent. This was stable to stratification by study design and AMD classification and not modified by smoking. The lack of association in non-Europeans requires further verification. These findings are of direct relevance for disease prediction. New research is needed to ascertain if differences in circulating levels, expression or activity of factor H protein explain the genetic association.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD); Complement factor H gene; meta-ananlysis
We investigated the retinal disease due to mutations in the retinitis pigmentosa GTPase regulator (RPGR) gene in human patients and in an Rpgr conditional knockout (cko) mouse model.
XLRP patients with RPGR-ORF15 mutations (n = 35, ages at first visit 5–72 years) had clinical examinations, and rod and cone perimetry. Rpgr-cko mice, in which the proximal promoter and first exon were deleted ubiquitously, were back-crossed onto a BALB/c background, and studied with optical coherence tomography and electroretinography (ERG). Retinal histopathology was performed on a subset.
Different patterns of rod and cone dysfunction were present in patients. Frequently, there were midperipheral losses with residual rod and cone function in central and peripheral retina. Longitudinal data indicated that central rod loss preceded peripheral rod losses. Central cone-only vision with no peripheral function was a late stage. Less commonly, patients had central rod and cone dysfunction, but preserved, albeit abnormal, midperipheral rod and cone vision. Rpgr-cko mice had progressive retinal degeneration detectable in the first months of life. ERGs indicated relatively equal rod and cone disease. At late stages, there was greater inferior versus superior retinal degeneration.
RPGR mutations lead to progressive loss of rod and cone vision, but show different patterns of residual photoreceptor disease expression. Knowledge of the patterns should guide treatment strategies. Rpgr-cko mice had onset of degeneration at relatively young ages and progressive photoreceptor disease. The natural history in this model will permit preclinical proof-of-concept studies to be designed and such studies should advance progress toward human therapy.
Progress in treating canine RPGR disease prompted us to characterize patients with RPGR-ORF15 mutations and provide a detailed natural history of a novel Rpgr-mutant mouse for further proof-of-concept experiments.
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.
Retina; Photoreceptor; Mouse; Retinal degeneration; Photoreceptor development; Rabac1; Prenylated Rab Acceptor 1; Rab6; Vesicular trafficking
Ciliopathies encompass a broad array of clinical findings associated with genetic defects in biogenesis and/or function of the primary cilium, a ubiquitous organelle involved in the transduction of diverse biological signals. Degeneration or dysfunction of retinal photoreceptors is frequently observed in diverse ciliopathies. The sensory cilium in a photoreceptor elaborates into unique outer segment discs that provide extensive surface area for maximal photon capture and efficient visual transduction. The daily renewal of approximately 10% of outer segments requires a precise control of ciliary transport. Here, we review the ciliopathies with associated retinal degeneration, describe the distinctive structure of the photoreceptor cilium, and discuss mouse models that allow investigations into molecular mechanisms of cilia biogenesis and defects. We have specifically focused on two ciliary proteins – CEP290 and RPGR – that underlie photoreceptor degeneration and syndromic ciliopathies. Mouse models of CEP290 and RPGR disease, and of their multiple interacting partners, have helped unravel new functional insights into cell type-specific phenotypic defects in distinct ciliary proteins. Elucidation of multifaceted ciliary functions and associated protein complexes will require concerted efforts to assimilate diverse datasets from in vivo and in vitro studies. We therefore discuss a possible framework for investigating genetic networks associated with photoreceptor cilia biogenesis and pathology.
Ciliopathy; Retinal degeneration; Primary cilium; Sensory cilia; CEP290; RPGR; Bardet–Biedl syndrome; Leber congenital amaurosis; Joubert syndrome; Nephronophthisis
Mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells are derived from the inner cell mass of blastocyst stage embryos and are used primarily for the creation of genetically engineered strains through gene targeting. While some inbred strains of mice are permissive to the derivation of embryonic stem cell lines and are therefore easily engineered, others are nonpermissive or recalcitrant. Genetic engineering of recalcitrant strain backgrounds requires gene targeting in a permissive background followed by extensive backcrossing of the engineered allele into the desired strain background. The inbred mouse strain DBA/2J is a recalcitrant strain that is used as a model of many human diseases, including glaucoma, deafness and schizophrenia. Here, we describe the generation of germ-line competent ES cell lines derived from DBA/2J mice. We also demonstrate the utility of DBA/2J ES cells with the creation of conditional knockout allele for Endothelin-2 (Edn2) directly on the DBA/2J strain background.
The orphan nuclear receptor NR2E3 is a direct transcriptional target of NRL, the key basic motif leucine zipper transcription factor that dictates rod versus cone photoreceptor cell fate in the mammalian retina. The lack of NR2E3 function in humans and in retinal degeneration rd7 mutant mouse leads to increased S-cones accompanied by rod degeneration, whereas ectopic expression of Nr2e3 in the cone-only Nrl−/− retina generates rod-like cells that do not exhibit any visual function. Using GFP to tag the newborn rods and by 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine birthdating, we demonstrate that early-born post-mitotic photoreceptor precursors in the rd7 retina express cone-specific genes. Transgenic mouse studies in the rd7 background show that Nr2e3 when expressed under the control of Crx promoter can restore rod photoreceptor function and suppress cone gene expression. Furthermore, Nr2e3 expression in photoreceptor precursors committed to be rods (driven by the Nrl promoter) could completely rescue the retinal phenotype of the rd7 mice. We conclude that excess of S-cones in the rd7 retina originate from photoreceptor precursors with a ‘default’ fate and not from proliferation of cones and that Nr2e3 is required to suppress the expression of S-cone genes during normal rod differentiation. These studies further support the ‘transcriptional dominance’ model of photoreceptor cell fate determination and provide insights into the pathogenesis of retinal disease phenotypes caused by NR2E3 mutations.
Aging-associated neurodegenerative diseases significantly influence the quality of life of affected individuals. Genetic approaches, combined with genomic technology, have provided powerful insights into common late-onset diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Here, we discuss current findings on the genetics of AMD to highlight areas of rapid progress and new challenges. We also attempt to integrate available genetic and biochemical data with cellular pathways involved in aging to formulate an integrated model of AMD pathogenesis.
protein homeostasis; gene-environment interaction; genetic variation; neurodegeneration; neovascularization; animal models
Reprogramming somatic cells to a pluripotent state by nucleic acid based (NAB) approaches, involving the ectopic expression of transcription factors, has emerged as a standard method. We recently demonstrated that limbal progenitors that regenerate cornea are reprogrammable to pluripotency by a non-NAB approach through simple manipulation of microenvironment thus extending the possible therapeutic use of these readily accessible cells beyond the proven treatment of corneal diseases and injury. Therefore, to determine the validity and robustness of non-cell autonomous reprogramming of limbal progenitors for a wider clinical use, here, we have compared their reprogramming by non-NAB and NAB approaches. We observed that both approaches led to (1) the emergence of colonies displaying pluripotency markers, accompanied by a temporal reciprocal changes in limbal-specific and pluripotency gene expression, and (2) epigenetic alterations of Oct4 and Nanog, associated with the de-novo activation of their expression. While the efficiency of reprogramming and passaging of re-programmed cells were significantly better with the NAB approach, the non-NAB approach, in contrast, led to a regulated reprogramming of gene expression, and a significant decrease in the expression of Hormad1, a gene associated with immunogenic responses. The reprogramming efficiency by non-NAB approach was influenced by exosomes present in conditioned medium. Cells reprogrammed by both approaches were capable of differentiating along the three germ lineages and generating chimeras. The analysis suggests that both approaches are effective in reprogramming limbal progenitors but the non-NAB approach may be more suitable for potential clinical applications by averting the risk of insertional mutagenesis and immune responses associated with the NAB approach.
Mutations in Retinitis Pigmentosa GTPase Regulator (RPGR) are a frequent cause of X-linked Retinitis Pigmentosa (XLRP). The RPGR gene undergoes extensive alternative splicing and encodes for distinct protein isoforms in the retina. Extensive studies using isoform-specific antibodies and mouse mutants have revealed that RPGR predominantly localizes to the transition zone to primary cilia and associates with selected ciliary and microtubule-associated assemblies in photoreceptors. In this chapter, we have summarized recent advances on understanding the role of RPGR in photoreceptor protein trafficking. We also provide new evidence that suggests the existence of discrete RPGR multiprotein complexes in photoreceptors. Piecing together the RPGR-interactome in different subcellular compartments should provide critical insights into the role of alternative RPGR isoforms in associated orphan and syndromic retinal degenerative diseases.
Dysfunction of primary cilia due to mutations in cilia-centrosomal proteins is associated with pleiotropic disorders. The primary (or sensory) cilium of photoreceptors mediates polarized trafficking of proteins for efficient phototransduction. Retinitis pigmentosa GTPase regulator (RPGR) is a cilia-centrosomal protein mutated in >70% of X-linked RP cases and 10%–20% of simplex RP males. Accumulating evidence indicates that RPGR may facilitate the orchestration of multiple ciliary protein complexes. Disruption of these complexes due to mutations in component proteins is an underlying cause of associated photoreceptor degeneration. Here, we highlight the recent developments in understanding the mechanism of cilia-dependent photoreceptor degeneration due to mutations in RPGR and RPGR-interacting proteins in severe genetic diseases, including retinitis pigmentosa, Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), Joubert syndrome, and Senior–Loken syndrome, and explore the physiological relevance of photoreceptor ciliary protein complexes.
primary cilia; centrosome; transition zone; ciliopathies; photoreceptor; retinal degeneration; retina; RPGR; RP2; CEP290; RPGRIP1L; NPHP
To assess the phenotype of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP) patients with RP2 mutations and correlate the findings with their genotype.
An identifiable phenotype for RP2-XLRP aids in clinical diagnosis and targeted genetic screening.
Over 600 XLRP patients and carriers were screened during a ten-year period for mutations in the RP2 gene. Twenty-five RP2 patients were evaluated clinically with standardized electroretinography (ERG), Goldmann visual fields, and ocular examinationsl. In addition, well documented cases from the literature were used to augment genotype-phenotype correlations.
In our male cohort under the age of 12 years: 10/11 (91%) patients had macular involvement and 10/11 (91%) had best corrected visual acuities worse than 20/50. Two males from different families (ages 8 and 12) displayed a choroideremia-like fundus, and 9/11( 82%) of male patients were myopic with a mean error of −7.97D. Of patients with ERG data, 9/10 (90%) demonstrated severe rod-cone dysfunction. All three female carriers had macular atrophy in one or both eyes and were myopic (mean −6.23 D). We identified four novel RP2 mutations. All nine nonsense and five of seven missense mutations (71%) resulted in severe clinical presentations.
Screening of the RP2 gene should be prioritized in patients less than 16 years of age characterized by X-linked inheritance, decreased BCVA (e.g.,>20/40), high myopia, and early-onset macular atrophy. We also suggest that patients exhibiting a choroideremia-like fundus appearance who do not have disease-causing mutations in the choroideremia gene (CHM) be screened for variations in RP2. We believe that alterations in function play a significant role in RP2-associated disease pathogenesis.
Variation in the apolipoprotein E gene (APOE) has been reported to be associated with longevity in humans. The authors assessed the allelic distribution of APOE isoforms ε2, ε3, and ε4 among 10,623 participants from 15 case-control and cohort studies of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in populations of European ancestry (study dates ranged from 1990 to 2009). The authors included only the 10,623 control subjects from these studies who were classified as having no evidence of AMD, since variation within the APOE gene has previously been associated with AMD. In an analysis stratified by study center, gender, and smoking status, there was a decreasing frequency of the APOE ε4 isoform with increasing age (χ2 for trend = 14.9 (1 df); P = 0.0001), with a concomitant increase in the ε3 isoform (χ2 for trend = 11.3 (1 df); P = 0.001). The association with age was strongest in ε4 homozygotes; the frequency of ε4 homozygosity decreased from 2.7% for participants aged 60 years or less to 0.8% for those over age 85 years, while the proportion of participants with the ε3/ε4 genotype decreased from 26.8% to 17.5% across the same age range. Gender had no significant effect on the isoform frequencies. This study provides strong support for an association of the APOE gene with human longevity.
aged; apolipoprotein E2; apolipoprotein E3; apolipoprotein E4; apolipoproteins E; longevity; meta-analysis; multicenter study
Complement factor D catalyzes a critical step in the alternative complement activation pathway. The authors report a significant elevation in plasma CFD concentrations in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients compared with controls and a weak genetic association between CFD gene variants and AMD.
To examine the role of complement factor D (CFD) in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by analysis of genetic association, copy number variation, and plasma CFD concentrations.
Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the CFD gene were genotyped and the results analyzed by binary logistic regression. CFD gene copy number was analyzed by gene copy number assay. Plasma CFD was measured by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
Genetic association was found between CFD gene SNP rs3826945 and AMD (odds ratio 1.44; P = 0.028) in a small discovery case-control series (462 cases and 325 controls) and replicated in a combined cohorts meta-analysis of 4765 cases and 2693 controls, with an odds ratio of 1.11 (P = 0.032), with the association almost confined to females. Copy number variation in the CFD gene was identified in 13 out of 640 samples examined but there was no difference in frequency between AMD cases (1.3%) and controls (2.7%). Plasma CFD concentration was measured in 751 AMD cases and 474 controls and found to be elevated in AMD cases (P = 0.00025). The odds ratio for those in the highest versus lowest quartile for plasma CFD was 1.81. The difference in plasma CFD was again almost confined to females.
CFD regulates activation of the alternative complement pathway, which is implicated in AMD pathogenesis. The authors found evidence for genetic association between a CFD gene SNP and AMD and a significant increase in plasma CFD concentration in AMD cases compared with controls, consistent with a role for CFD in AMD pathogenesis.
Animal models of human disease are an invaluable component of studies aimed at understanding disease pathogenesis and therapeutic possibilities. Mutations in the gene encoding retinitis pigmentosa GTPase regulator (RPGR) are the most common cause of X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP) and are estimated to cause 20% of all retinal dystrophy cases. A majority of RPGR mutations are present in ORF15, the purine-rich terminal exon of the predominant splice-variant expressed in retina. Here we describe the genetic and phenotypic characterization of the retinal degeneration 9 (Rd9) strain of mice, a naturally occurring animal model of XLRP. Rd9 mice were found to carry a 32-base-pair duplication within ORF15 that causes a shift in the reading frame that introduces a premature-stop codon. Rpgr ORF15 transcripts, but not protein, were detected in retinas from Rd9/Y male mice that exhibited retinal pathology, including pigment loss and slowly progressing decrease in outer nuclear layer thickness. The levels of rhodopsin and transducin in rod outer segments were also decreased, and M-cone opsin appeared mislocalized within cone photoreceptors. In addition, electroretinogram (ERG) a- and b-wave amplitudes of both Rd9/Y male and Rd9/Rd9 female mice showed moderate gradual reduction that continued to 24 months of age. The presence of multiple retinal features that correlate with findings in individuals with XLRP identifies Rd9 as a valuable model for use in gaining insight into ORF15-associated disease progression and pathogenesis, as well as accelerating the development and testing of therapeutic strategies for this common form of retinal dystrophy.
A stringent control of homeostasis is critical for functional maintenance and survival of neurons. In the mammalian retina, the basic motif leucine zipper transcription factor NRL determines rod versus cone photoreceptor cell fate and activates the expression of many rod-specific genes. Here, we report an integrated analysis of NRL-centered gene regulatory network by coupling chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by high-throughput sequencing (ChIP–Seq) data from Illumina and ABI platforms with global expression profiling and in vivo knockdown studies. We identified approximately 300 direct NRL target genes. Of these, 22 NRL targets are associated with human retinal dystrophies, whereas 95 mapped to regions of as yet uncloned retinal disease loci. In silico analysis of NRL ChIP–Seq peak sequences revealed an enrichment of distinct sets of transcription factor binding sites. Specifically, we discovered that genes involved in photoreceptor function include binding sites for both NRL and homeodomain protein CRX. Evaluation of 26 ChIP–Seq regions validated their enhancer functions in reporter assays. In vivo knockdown of 16 NRL target genes resulted in death or abnormal morphology of rod photoreceptors, suggesting their importance in maintaining retinal function. We also identified histone demethylase Kdm5b as a novel secondary node in NRL transcriptional hierarchy. Exon array analysis of flow-sorted photoreceptors in which Kdm5b was knocked down by shRNA indicated its role in regulating rod-expressed genes. Our studies identify candidate genes for retinal dystrophies, define cis-regulatory module(s) for photoreceptor-expressed genes and provide a framework for decoding transcriptional regulatory networks that dictate rod homeostasis.
The rod and cone photoreceptors in the retina are highly specialized neurons that capture photons under dim and bright light, respectively. Loss of rod photoreceptors is an early clinical manifestation in most retinal neurodegenerative diseases that eventually result in cone cell death and blindness. The transcription factor NRL is a key regulator of rod photoreceptor cell fate and gene expression. Here, we report an integrated analysis of the global transcriptional targets of NRL. We have discovered that both NRL and CRX binding sites are present in genes involved in photoreceptor function, implying their close synergistic relationship. In vivo loss-of-function analysis of 16 NRL target genes in the mouse retina resulted in death or abnormal morphology of photoreceptor cells. Furthermore, we identified histone demethylase Kdm5b as a secondary node in the NRL-centered gene regulatory network. Our studies identify NRL target genes as excellent candidates for mutation screening of patients with retinal degenerative diseases, and they provide the foundation for elucidating regulation of rod homeostasis and targets for therapeutic intervention in diseases involving photoreceptor dysfunction.
Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a severe autosomal recessive childhood blindness, is caused by mutations in at least 15 genes. The most common molecular form is a ciliopathy due to NPHP6 (CEP290) mutations and subjects have profound loss of vision. A similarly severe phenotype occurs in the related ciliopathy NPHP5 (IQCB1)-LCA. Recent success of retinal gene therapy in one form of LCA prompted the question whether we know enough about human NPHP5 and NPHP6 disease to plan such treatment. We determined that there was early-onset rapid degeneration of rod photoreceptors in young subjects with these ciliopathies. Rod outer segment (OS) lamination, when detectable, was disorganized. Retinal pigment epithelium lipofuscin accumulation indicated that rods had existed in the past in most subjects. In contrast to early rod losses, the all-cone human fovea in NPHP5- and NPHP6-LCA of all ages retained cone nuclei, albeit with abnormal inner segments and OS. The rd16 mouse, carrying a hypomorphic Nphp6 allele, was a good model of the rod-dominant human extra-foveal retina. Rd16 mice showed normal genesis of photoreceptors, including the formation of cilia, followed by abnormal elaboration of OS and rapid degeneration. To produce a model of the all-cone human fovea in NPHP6-LCA, we generated rd16;Nrl−/− double-mutant mice. They showed substantially retained cone photoreceptors with disproportionate cone function loss, such as in the human disease. NPHP5- and NPHP6-LCA across a wide age spectrum are thus excellent candidates for cone-directed gene augmentation therapy, and the rd16;Nrl−/− mouse is an appropriate model for pre-clinical proof-of-concept studies.
Bardet-Biedl Syndrome (BBS, MIM#209900) is a genetically heterogeneous disorder with pleiotropic phenotypes that include retinopathy, mental retardation, obesity and renal abnormalities. Of the 15 genes identified so far, seven encode core proteins that form a stable complex called BBSome, which is implicated in trafficking of proteins to cilia. Though BBS9 (also known as PTHB1) is reportedly a component of BBSome, its direct function has not yet been elucidated. Using zebrafish as a model, we show that knockdown of bbs9 with specific antisense morpholinos leads to developmental abnormalities in retina and brain including hydrocephaly that are consistent with the core phenotypes observed in syndromic ciliopathies. Knockdown of bbs9 also causes reduced number and length of cilia in Kupffer's vesicle. We also demonstrate that an orthologous human BBS9 mRNA, but not one carrying a missense mutation identified in BBS patients, can rescue the bbs9 morphant phenotype. Consistent with these findings, knockdown of Bbs9 in mouse IMCD3 cells results in the absence of cilia. Our studies suggest a key conserved role of BBS9 in biogenesis and/or function of cilia in zebrafish and mammals.
Cilia are highly specialized microtubule-based organelles that have pivotal roles in numerous biological processes, including transducing sensory signals. Defects in cilia biogenesis and transport cause pleiotropic human ciliopathies. Mutations in over 30 different genes can lead to cilia defects, and complex interactions exist among ciliopathy-associated proteins. Mutations of the centrosomal protein 290 kDa (CEP290) lead to distinct clinical manifestations, including Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a hereditary cause of blindness due to photoreceptor degeneration. Mice homozygous for a mutant Cep290 allele (Cep290rd16 mice) exhibit LCA-like early-onset retinal degeneration that is caused by an in-frame deletion in the CEP290 protein. Here, we show that the domain deleted in the protein encoded by the Cep290rd16 allele directly interacts with another ciliopathy protein, MKKS. MKKS mutations identified in patients with the ciliopathy Bardet-Biedl syndrome disrupted this interaction. In zebrafish embryos, combined subminimal knockdown of mkks and cep290 produced sensory defects in the eye and inner ear. Intriguingly, combinations of Cep290rd16 and Mkksko alleles in mice led to improved ciliogenesis and sensory functions compared with those of either mutant alone. We propose that altered association of CEP290 and MKKS affects the integrity of multiprotein complexes at the cilia transition zone and basal body. Amelioration of the sensory phenotypes caused by specific mutations in one protein by removal of an interacting domain/protein suggests a possible novel approach for treating human ciliopathies.
We recently reported that mutations in the widely expressed nuclear protein TOPORS (topoisomerase I-binding arginine/serine rich) are associated with autosomal dominant retinal degeneration. However, the precise localization and a functional role of TOPORS in the retina remain unknown. Here, we demonstrate that TOPORS is a novel component of the photoreceptor sensory cilium, which is a modified primary cilium involved with polarized trafficking of proteins. In photoreceptors, TOPORS localizes primarily to the basal bodies of connecting cilium and in the centrosomes of cultured cells. Morpholino-mediated silencing of topors in zebrafish embryos demonstrates in another species a comparable retinal problem as seen in humans, resulting in defective retinal development and failure to form outer segments. These defects can be rescued by mRNA encoding human TOPORS. Taken together, our data suggest that TOPORS may play a key role in regulating primary cilia-dependent photoreceptor development and function. Additionally, it is well known that mutations in other ciliary proteins cause retinal degeneration, which may explain why mutations in TOPORS result in the same phenotype.
Cardiovascular disease candidate genes, including genes previously associated with type 2 diabetes and diabetic nephropathy, were not associated with diabetic retinopathy, although a limited number of variants merit further investigation in larger cohorts.
To investigate whether variants in cardiovascular candidate genes, some of which have been previously associated with type 2 diabetes (T2D), diabetic retinopathy (DR), and diabetic nephropathy (DN), are associated with DR in the Candidate gene Association Resource (CARe).
Persons with T2D who were enrolled in the study (n = 2691) had fundus photography and genotyping of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in 2000 candidate genes. Two case definitions were investigated: Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study (ETDRS) grades ≥14 and ≥30. The χ2 analyses for each CARe cohort were combined by Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel (CMH) pooling of odds ratios (ORs) and corrected for multiple hypothesis testing. Logistic regression was performed with adjustment for other DR risk factors. Results from replication in independent cohorts were analyzed with CMH meta-analysis methods.
Among 39 genes previously associated with DR, DN, or T2D, three SNPs in P-selectin (SELP) were associated with DR. The strongest association was to rs6128 (OR = 0.43, P = 0.0001, after Bonferroni correction). These associations remained significant after adjustment for DR risk factors. Among other genes examined, several variants were associated with DR with significant P values, including rs6856425 tagging α-l-iduronidase (IDUA) (P = 2.1 × 10−5, after Bonferroni correction). However, replication in independent cohorts did not reveal study-wide significant effects. The P values after replication were 0.55 and 0.10 for rs6128 and rs6856425, respectively.
Genes associated with DN, T2D, and vascular diseases do not appear to be consistently associated with DR. A few genetic variants associated with DR, particularly those in SELP and near IDUA, should be investigated in additional DR cohorts.