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author:("vise, meikle")
1.  Retinoschisin gene therapy in photoreceptors, Müller glia, or all retinal cells in the Rs1h−/− mouse 
Gene therapy  2014;21(6):585-592.
X-linked retinoschisis, a disease characterized by splitting of the retina, is caused by mutations in the retinoschisin gene, which encodes a secreted cell adhesion protein. Currently, there is no effective treatment for retinoschisis, though viral vector-mediated gene replacement therapies offer promise. We used intravitreal delivery of three different AAV vectors to target delivery of the RS1 gene to Müller glia, photoreceptors, or multiple cell types throughout the retina. Müller glia radially span the entire retina, are accessible from the vitreous, and remain intact throughout progression of the disease. However, photoreceptors, not glia, normally secrete retinoschisin. We compared the efficacy of rescue mediated by retinoschisin secretion from these specific subtypes of retinal cells in the Rs1h−/− mouse model of retinoschisis. Our results indicate that all three vectors deliver the RS1 gene, and that several cell types can secrete retinoschisin, leading to transport of the protein across the retina. The greatest long-term rescue was observed when photoreceptors produce retinoschisin. Similar rescue was observed with photoreceptor-specific or generalized expression, though photoreceptor secretion may contribute to rescue in the latter case. These results collectively point to the importance of cell targeting and appropriate vector choice in the success of retinal gene therapies.
PMCID: PMC4047144  PMID: 24694538
Gene therapy; X-linked retinoschisis; AAV vectors; photoreceptors; Müller glia; cell targeting
2.  AAV-Mediated, Optogenetic Ablation of Müller Glia Leads to Structural and Functional Changes in the Mouse Retina 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e76075.
Müller glia, the primary glial cell in the retina, provide structural and metabolic support for neurons and are essential for retinal integrity. Müller cells are closely involved in many retinal degenerative diseases, including macular telangiectasia type 2, in which impairment of central vision may be linked to a primary defect in Müller glia. Here, we used an engineered, Müller-specific variant of AAV, called ShH10, to deliver a photo-inducibly toxic protein, KillerRed, to Müller cells in the mouse retina. We characterized the results of specific ablation of these cells on visual function and retinal structure. ShH10-KillerRed expression was obtained following intravitreal injection and eyes were then irradiated with green light to induce toxicity. Induction of KillerRed led to loss of Müller cells and a concomitant decrease of Müller cell markers glutamine synthetase and cellular retinaldehyde-binding protein, reduction of rhodopsin and cone opsin, and upregulation of glial fibrillary acidic protein. Loss of Müller cells also resulted in retinal disorganization, including thinning of the outer nuclear layer and the photoreceptor inner and outer segments. High resolution imaging of thin sections revealed displacement of photoreceptors from the ONL, formation of rosette-like structures and the presence of phagocytic cells. Furthermore, Müller cell ablation resulted in increased area and volume of retinal blood vessels, as well as the formation of tortuous blood vessels and vascular leakage. Electrophysiologic measures demonstrated reduced retinal function, evident in decreased photopic and scotopic electroretinogram amplitudes. These results show that loss of Müller cells can cause progressive retinal degenerative disease, and suggest that AAV delivery of an inducibly toxic protein in Müller cells may be useful to create large animal models of retinal dystrophies.
PMCID: PMC3785414  PMID: 24086689
3.  Intravitreal Injection of AAV2 Transduces Macaque Inner Retina 
Intravitreally injected AAV2 transduced inner retinal cells in a restricted region at the macaque fovea. Because macaque and human eyes are similar, the results suggest a need to improve transduction methods in gene therapy for the human inner retina.
Adeno-associated virus serotype 2 (AAV2) has been shown to be effective in transducing inner retinal neurons after intravitreal injection in several species. However, results in nonprimates may not be predictive of transduction in the human inner retina, because of differences in eye size and the specialized morphology of the high-acuity human fovea. This was a study of inner retina transduction in the macaque, a primate with ocular characteristics most similar to that of humans.
In vivo imaging and histology were used to examine GFP expression in the macaque inner retina after intravitreal injection of AAV vectors containing five distinct promoters.
AAV2 produced pronounced GFP expression in inner retinal cells of the fovea, no expression in the central retina beyond the fovea, and variable expression in the peripheral retina. AAV2 vector incorporating the neuronal promoter human connexin 36 (hCx36) transduced ganglion cells within a dense annulus around the fovea center, whereas AAV2 containing the ubiquitous promoter hybrid cytomegalovirus (CMV) enhancer/chicken-β-actin (CBA) transduced both Müller and ganglion cells in a dense circular disc centered on the fovea. With three shorter promoters—human synapsin (hSYN) and the shortened CBA and hCx36 promoters (smCBA and hCx36sh)—AAV2 produced visible transduction, as seen in fundus images, only when the retina was altered by ganglion cell loss or enzymatic vitreolysis.
The results in the macaque suggest that intravitreal injection of AAV2 would produce high levels of gene expression at the human fovea, important in retinal gene therapy, but not in the central retina beyond the fovea.
PMCID: PMC3088562  PMID: 21310920
4.  Changes in Adeno-Associated Virus-Mediated Gene Delivery in Retinal Degeneration 
Human Gene Therapy  2010;21(5):571-578.
Gene therapies for retinal degeneration have relied on subretinal delivery of viral vectors carrying therapeutic DNA. The subretinal injection is clearly not ideal as it limits the viral transduction profile to a focal region at the injection site and negatively affects the neural retina by detaching it from the supportive retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). We assessed changes in adeno-associated virus (AAV) dispersion and transduction in the degenerating rat retina after intravitreal delivery. We observed a significant increase in AAV-mediated gene transfer in the diseased compared with normal retina, the extent of which depends on the AAV serotype injected. We also identified key structural changes that correspond to increased viral infectivity. Particle diffusion and transgene accumulation in normal and diseased retina were monitored via fluorescent labeling of viral capsids and quantitative PCR. Viral particles were observed to accumulate at the vitreoretinal junction in normal retina, whereas particles spread into the outer retina and RPE in degenerated tissue. Immunohistochemistry illustrates remarkable changes in the architecture of the inner limiting membrane, which are likely to underlie the increased viral transduction in diseased retina. These data highlight the importance of characterizing gene delivery vectors in diseased tissue as structural and biochemical changes can alter viral vector transduction patterns. Furthermore, these results indicate that gene delivery to the outer nuclear layer may be achieved by noninvasive intravitreal AAV administration in the diseased state.
Kolstad et al. evaluate the distribution of vector particles and transduction of AAV administered intravitreally in diseased versus healthy retinas. Whereas healthy retinas are not very receptive to vector penetration and transduction following intravitreal injection, in retinal degenerations the authors show improved and more extensive gene transfer.
PMCID: PMC3143418  PMID: 20021232
5.  CLRN1 Is Nonessential in the Mouse Retina but Is Required for Cochlear Hair Cell Development 
PLoS Genetics  2009;5(8):e1000607.
Mutations in the CLRN1 gene cause Usher syndrome type 3 (USH3), a human disease characterized by progressive blindness and deafness. Clarin 1, the protein product of CLRN1, is a four-transmembrane protein predicted to be associated with ribbon synapses of photoreceptors and cochlear hair cells, and recently demonstrated to be associated with the cytoskeleton. To study Clrn1, we created a Clrn1 knockout (KO) mouse and characterized the histological and functional consequences of Clrn1 deletion in the retina and cochlea. Clrn1 KO mice do not develop a retinal degeneration phenotype, but exhibit progressive loss of sensory hair cells in the cochlea and deterioration of the organ of Corti by 4 months. Hair cell stereocilia in KO animals were longer and disorganized by 4 months, and some Clrn1 KO mice exhibited circling behavior by 5–6 months of age. Clrn1 mRNA expression was localized in the retina using in situ hybridization (ISH), laser capture microdissection (LCM), and RT–PCR. Retinal Clrn1 transcripts were found throughout development and adulthood by RT–PCR, although expression peaked at P7 and declined to undetectable levels in adult retina by ISH. LCM localized Clrn1 transcripts to the retinas inner nuclear layer, and WT levels of retinal Clrn1 expression were observed in photoreceptor-less retinas. Examination of Clrn1 KO mice suggests that CLRN1 is unnecessary in the murine retina but essential for normal cochlear development and function. This may reflect a redundancy in the mouse retina not present in human retina. In contrast to mouse KO models of USH1 and USH2, our data indicate that Clrn1 expression in the retina is restricted to the Müller glia. This is a novel finding, as most retinal degeneration associated proteins are expressed in photoreceptors, not in glia. If CLRN1 expression in humans is comparable to the expression pattern observed in mice, this is the first report of an inner retinal protein that, when mutated, causes retinal degeneration.
Author Summary
Usher syndrome (USH) is a progressive disease affecting two primary senses: vision and hearing. Often by the third decade of life, affected persons have lost the majority of their rod photoreceptors, which leads to night blindness and peripheral vision loss. Similarly, hearing loss often progresses into the third or fourth decade. By the fourth decade, patients typically approach legal blindness and hearing impairment continues to decline. The proteins that when mutated cause USH are frequently found in primary sensory cells, photoreceptor and hair cells, that directly respond to light and sound, respectively. Similar to other forms of USH, the mRNA coding for the protein responsible for USH type 3 (CLRN1) is expressed in cochlear hair cells of the inner ear. However, as demonstrated in the current study, and unlike other USH disease proteins in the retina, we show that the Clrn1 is expressed in glial cells in the retina (Müller cells) and is not expressed in the photoreceptors themselves. For reasons that remain unclear, the Clrn1 knockout mouse does not have a retinal degeneration phenotype but does become deaf soon after birth. In the current paper, we characterize the expression pattern in the retina and analyze the effects of removing the Clrn1 gene on vision and hearing.
PMCID: PMC2719914  PMID: 19680541
6.  In vitro analysis of promoter activity in Müller cells 
Molecular Vision  2008;14:691-705.
Rational modification of promoter architecture is necessary for manipulation of transgene activity and requires accurate deciphering of regulatory control elements. Identification of minimally sized promoters is critical to the design of viral vectors for gene therapy. To this end, we evaluated computational methods for predicting short DNA sequences capable of driving gene expression in Müller cells.
We measured enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) expression levels driven by “full-length” promoters, and compared these data with computationally identified shorter promoter elements from the same genes. We cloned and screened over 90 sequences from nine Müller cell-associated genes: CAR2, CD44, GFAP, GLUL, PDGFRA, RLBP1, S100B, SLC1A3, and vimentin (VIM). We PCR-amplified the “full-length” promoter (~1500 bp), the proximal promoter (~500 bp), and the most proximal evolutionarily conserved region (ECR; 95–871 bp) for each gene, both with and without their respective 5′ untranslated regions (UTRs), from C57BL/6J mouse genomic DNA. We selected and cloned additional ECRs from more distal genomic regions (both 5′ and 3′) of the VIM and CD44 genes, using both mouse and rat (Sprague-Dawley) genomic DNA as templates. PCR products were cloned into the pFTMGW or pFTM3GW lentiviral transfer vectors. Plasmid constructs were transfected into rat (wMC) or human (MIO-M1) Müller cells, and eGFP expression levels were evaluated by fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Selected constructs were also examined in NIH/3T3 and Neuro-2a cells.
Several ECRs from the nine Müller cell-associated genes were able to drive reporter gene expression as well as their longer counterparts. Preliminary comparisons of ECRs from the VIM and CD44 genes suggested that inclusion of UTRs in promoter constructs resulted in increased transgene expression levels. Systematic comparison of promoter activity from nine Müller cell-expressed genes supported this finding, and characteristic regulation profiles were evident among the different genes tested. Importantly, individual cloned promoter sequences were capable of driving distinct levels of transgene expression, resulting in up to eightfold more cells expressing eGFP with up to 3.8-fold higher mean fluorescence intensity (MFI). Furthermore, combining constructs into single regulatory “units” modulated transgene expression, suggesting that secondary gene sequences provided in cis may be used to fine-tune gene expression levels.
In this study, we demonstrate that computational and empirical methods, when used in combination, can efficiently identify short promoters that are active in cultured Müller cells. In addition, the pFTM3GW vector can be used to study the effects of combined promoter elements. We anticipate that these methods will expedite the design and testing of synthetic/chimeric promoter constructs that should be useful for both in vitro and in vivo applications.
PMCID: PMC2330062  PMID: 18437242
7.  Functional promoter testing using a modified lentiviral transfer vector 
Molecular Vision  2007;13:730-739.
The importance of retinal glial cells in the maintenance of retinal health and in retinal degenerations has not been fully explored. Several groups have suggested that secretion of neurotrophic proteins from the retina's primary glial cell type, the Müller cell, holds promise for treating retinal degenerations. Tight regulation of transgene expression in Müller cells is likely to be critical to the efficacy of long-term neuroprotective therapies, due to the genetic heterogeneity and progressive nature of retinal disease. To this end, we developed a modified lentiviral (LV) transfer vector (pFTMGW) to accelerate the testing and evaluation of novel transcriptional regulatory elements. This vector facilitates identification and characterization of regulatory elements in terms of size, cell specificity and ability to control transgene expression levels.
A synthetic multiple cloning site (MCS) which can accept up to five directionally cloned DNA regulatory elements was inserted immediately upstream of an enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) reporter. A cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter, required for tat-independent viral packaging, is located around 2 kb upstream of the eGFP reporter and is capable of directing transgene expression. A synthetic transcription blocker (TB) was inserted to insulate the MCS/eGFP from the CMV promoter. We evaluated eGFP expression from pFTMGW and control constructs using flow cytometry and quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). We also tested and compared the activity and cell specificity of a computationally identified promoter fragment from the rat vimentin gene (Vim409) in transfection and lentiviral infection experiments using fluorescence microscopy.
Transfection data, quantitative RT-PCR, and flow cytometry show that around 85% of expression from the CMV promoter was blocked by the TB element, allowing direct evaluation of expression from the Vim409 candidate promoter cloned into the MCS. Lentiviruses generated from this construct containing the Vim409 promoter (without the TB element) drove robust eGFP expression in Müller cells in vitro and in vivo.
The TB element efficiently prevented eGFP expression by the upstream CMV promoter and the novel MCS facilitated testing of an evolutionarily conserved regulatory element. Additional sites allow for combinatorial testing of additional promoter, enhancer, and/or repressor elements in various configurations. This modified LV transfer vector is an effective tool for expediting functional analysis of gene regulatory elements in Müller glia, and should prove useful for promoter analyses in other cell types and tissues.
PMCID: PMC2765473  PMID: 17563724

Results 1-7 (7)