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Concept: Rhodopsin


One strategy to restore vision in retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration is cell replacement. Typically, patients lose vision when the outer retinal photoreceptor layer is lost, and so the therapeutic goal would be to restore vision at this stage of disease. It is not currently known if a degenerate retina lacking the outer nuclear layer of photoreceptor cells would allow the survival, maturation, and reconnection of replacement photoreceptors, as prior studies used hosts with a preexisting outer nuclear layer at the time of treatment. Here, using a murine model of severe human retinitis pigmentosa at a stage when no host rod cells remain, we show that transplanted rod precursors can reform an anatomically distinct and appropriately polarized outer nuclear layer. A trilaminar organization was returned to rd1 hosts that had only two retinal layers before treatment. The newly introduced precursors were able to resume their developmental program in the degenerate host niche to become mature rods with light-sensitive outer segments, reconnecting with host neurons downstream. Visual function, assayed in the same animals before and after transplantation, was restored in animals with zero rod function at baseline. These observations suggest that a cell therapy approach may reconstitute a light-sensitive cell layer de novo and hence repair a structurally damaged visual circuit. Rather than placing discrete photoreceptors among preexisting host outer retinal cells, total photoreceptor layer reconstruction may provide a clinically relevant model to investigate cell-based strategies for retinal repair.

Concepts: Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Visual system, Macular degeneration, Rod cell, Cone cell, Rhodopsin


Rod photoreceptors consist of an outer segment (OS) and an inner segment. Inside the OS a biochemical machinery transforms the rhodopsin photoisomerization into electrical signal. This machinery has been treated as and is thought to be homogenous with marginal inhomogeneities. To verify this assumption, we developed a methodology based on special tapered optical fibers (TOFs) to deliver highly localized light stimulations. By using these TOFs, specific regions of the rod OS could be stimulated with spots of light highly confined in space. As the TOF is moved from the OS base toward its tip, the amplitude of saturating and single photon responses decreases, demonstrating that the efficacy of the transduction machinery is not uniform and is 5-10 times higher at the base than at the tip. This gradient of efficacy of the transduction machinery is attributed to a progressive depletion of the phosphodiesterase along the rod OS. Moreover we demonstrate that, using restricted spots of light, the duration of the photoresponse along the OS does not increase linearly with the light intensity as with diffuse light.

Concepts: Molecular biology, Optics, Light, Stimulated emission, Retina, Photoreceptor cell, Rod cell, Rhodopsin


Ciliary and rhabdomeric opsins are employed by cells differing fundamentally in structure and molecular physiology, such as ciliary vertebrate rods and cones and protostome microvillar eye photoreceptors. We report unprecedented cellular co-expression of rhabdomeric opsin and a visual pigment of the recently described xenopsins in larval eyes of a mollusk. The photoreceptors bear both microvilli and cilia and express orthologs to transporters for microvillar and ciliary opsin trafficking. Highly conserved but distinct gene structures suggest that xenopsins and ciliary opsins are of independent origin, irrespective of their mutually exclusive distribution in animals.Furthermore, we propose that frequent opsin gene loss had big influence on evolution, organization and function of brain and eye photoreceptor cells in bilaterian animals. Presence of xenopsin in eyes of even different design might be due to common origin and initial employment in a highly plastic photoreceptor cell type of mixed microvillar/ciliary organization.

Concepts: Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Visual system, Rod cell, Cone cell, Rhodopsin, Opsin


The pathophysiology of the E150K mutation in the rod opsin gene associated with autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa (arRP) has yet to be determined. We generated knock-in mice carrying a single nucleotide change in exon 2 of the rod opsin gene resulting in the E150K mutation. This novel mouse model displayed severe retinal degeneration affecting rhodopsin’s stabilization of rod outer segments (ROS). Homozygous E150K (KK) mice exhibited early-onset retinal degeneration, with disorganized ROS structures, autofluorescent deposits in the subretinal space, and aberrant photoreceptor phagocytosis. Heterozygous (EK) mice displayed a delayed-onset milder retinal degeneration. Further, mutant receptors were mislocalized to the inner segments and perinuclear region. Though KK mouse rods displayed markedly decreased phototransduction, biochemical studies of the mutant rhodopsin revealed only minimally affected chromophore binding and G protein activation. Ablation of the chromophore by crossing KK mice with mice lacking the critical visual cycle protein LRAT slowed retinal degeneration, whereas blocking phototransduction by crossing KK mice with GNAT1-deficient mice slightly accelerated this process. This study highlights the importance of proper higher-order organization of rhodopsin in the native tissue and provides information about the signaling properties of this mutant rhodopsin. Additionally, these results suggest that patients heterozygous for the E150K mutation should be periodically reevaluated for delayed-onset retinal degeneration.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Retina, Photoreceptor cell, Retinitis pigmentosa, Zygosity, Rhodopsin, Opsin


Approximately 36 000 cases of simplex and familial retinitis pigmentosa (RP) worldwide are caused by a loss in phosphodiesterase (PDE6) function. In the preclinical Pde6α(nmf363) mouse model of this disease, defects in the α-subunit of PDE6 result in a progressive loss of photoreceptors and neuronal function. We hypothesized that increasing PDE6α levels using an AAV2/8 gene therapy vector could improve photoreceptor survival and retinal function. We utilized a vector with the cell-type-specific rhodopsin (RHO) promoter: AAV2/8(Y733F)-Rho-Pde6α, to transduce Pde6α(nmf363) retinas and monitored its effects over a 6-month period (a quarter of the mouse lifespan). We found that a single injection enhanced survival of photoreceptors and improved retinal function. At 6 months of age, the treated eyes retained photoreceptor cell bodies, while there were no detectable photoreceptors remaining in the untreated eyes. More importantly, the treated eyes demonstrated functional visual responses even after the untreated eyes had lost all vision. Despite focal rescue of the retinal structure adjacent to the injection site, global functional rescue of the entire retina was observed. These results suggest that RP due to PDE6α deficiency in humans, in addition to PDE6β deficiency, is also likely to be treatable by gene therapy.

Concepts: Gene, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Visual system, Retinitis pigmentosa, Rod cell, Rhodopsin


It is a deeply engrained notion that the visual pigment rhodopsin signals light as a monomer, even though many G protein-coupled receptors are now known to exist and function as dimers. Nonetheless, recent studies (albeit all in vitro) have suggested that rhodopsin and its chromophore-free apoprotein, R-opsin, may indeed exist as a homodimer in rod disk membranes. Given the overwhelmingly strong historical context, the crucial remaining question, therefore, is whether pigment dimerization truly exists naturally and what function this dimerization may serve. We addressed this question in vivo with a unique mouse line (S-opsin(+)Lrat(-/-)) expressing, transgenically, short-wavelength-sensitive cone opsin (S-opsin) in rods and also lacking chromophore to exploit the fact that cone opsins, but not R-opsin, require chromophore for proper folding and trafficking to the photoreceptor’s outer segment. In R-opsin’s absence, S-opsin in these transgenic rods without chromophore was mislocalized; in R-opsin’s presence, however, S-opsin trafficked normally to the rod outer segment and produced functional S-pigment upon subsequent chromophore restoration. Introducing a competing R-opsin transmembrane helix H1 or helix H8 peptide, but not helix H4 or helix H5 peptide, into these transgenic rods caused mislocalization of R-opsin and S-opsin to the perinuclear endoplasmic reticulum. Importantly, a similar peptide-competition effect was observed even in WT rods. Our work provides convincing evidence for visual pigment dimerization in vivo under physiological conditions and for its role in pigment maturation and targeting. Our work raises new questions regarding a potential mechanistic role of dimerization in rhodopsin signaling.

Concepts: Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Dimer, Rod cell, Cone cell, Rhodopsin, Opsin


Recoverin is a small molecular-weight, calcium-binding protein in rod outer segments which binds to G-protein receptor kinase 1 (GRK1) and can alter the rate of rhodopsin phosphorylation. A change in phosphorylation should change the lifetime of light-activated rhodopsin and the gain of phototransduction, but deletion of recoverin has little effect on the sensitivity of rods either in the dark or in dim-to-moderate background light. We describe two additional functions perhaps of greater physiological significance. (1) When the ambient intensity increases, sensitivity and integration time decrease in wild-type (WT) rods with similar time constants of 150 - 200 ms. Recoverin is part of the mechanism controlling this process since, in Rv-/- rods lacking recoverin, sensitivity declines more rapidly and integration time is already shorter and not further altered. (2) During steady light exposure, WT rod circulating current slowly increases during a time course of tens of seconds, gradually extending the operating range of the rod. In Rv-/- rods this mechanism is also deleted, steady-state currents are already larger, and rods saturate at brighter intensities. We argue that neither (1) nor (2) can be caused by modulation of rhodopsin phosphorylation but may instead be produced by direct modulation of phophodiesterase-6, the phototransduction effector enzyme. We propose that recoverin in dark-adapted rods keeps the integration time long and the spontaneous PDE6 rate relatively high to improve sensitivity. In background light, the integration time is decreased to facilitate detection of change and motion, and the spontaneous PDE6 rate decreases to augment the rod working range. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Signal transduction, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Rod cell, Copyright, Rhodopsin, Purkinje effect


Three-dimensional retinal organoids can be differentiated from embryonic stem cells/induced pluripotent stem cells (ES/iPS cells) under defined medium conditions. We modified the serum-free floating culture of embryoid body-like aggregates with quick reaggregation (SFEBq) culture procedure to obtain retinal organoids expressing more rod photoreceptors and S- and M-cone opsins.

Concepts: Stem cell, Cell biology, Embryonic stem cell, Photoreceptor cell, Pluripotency, Rod cell, Rhodopsin, Opsin


Mutations in rhodopsin, the light-sensitive protein of rod cells, are the most common cause of dominant retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a type of inherited blindness caused by the dysfunction and death of photoreceptor cells. The P23H mutation, the most frequent single cause of RP in the USA, causes rhodopsin misfolding and induction of the unfolded protein response (UPR), an adaptive ER stress response and signalling network that aims to enhance the folding and degradation of misfolded proteins to restore proteostasis. Prolonged UPR activation, and in particular the PERK branch, can reduce protein synthesis and initiate cell death through induction of pro-apoptotic pathways. Here, we investigated the effect of pharmacological PERK inhibition on retinal disease process in the P23H-1 transgenic rat model of retinal degeneration. PERK inhibition with GSK2606414A led to an inhibition of eIF2α phosphorylation, which correlated with reduced ERG function and decreased photoreceptor survival at both high and low doses of PERK inhibitor. Additionally, PERK inhibition increased the incidence of inclusion formation in cultured cells overexpressing P23H rod opsin, and increased rhodopsin aggregation in the P23H-1 rat retina, suggesting enhanced P23H misfolding and aggregation. In contrast, treatment of P23H-1 rats with an inhibitor of eIF2α phosphatase, salubrinal, led to improved photoreceptor survival. Collectively, these data suggest the activation of PERK is part of a protective response to mutant rhodopsin that ultimately limits photoreceptor cell death.

Concepts: Protein folding, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Retinitis pigmentosa, Rod cell, Rhodopsin, Opsin


Mutations in the RPGR-interacting protein 1 (RPGRIP1) gene cause recessive Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), juvenile retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and cone-rod dystrophy. RPGRIP1 interacts with other retinal disease-causing proteins and has been proposed to have a role in ciliary protein transport; however, its function remains elusive. Here, we describe a new zebrafish model carrying a nonsense mutation in the rpgrip1 gene. Rpgrip1homozygous mutants do not form rod outer segments and display mislocalization of rhodopsin, suggesting a role for RPGRIP1 in rhodopsin-bearing vesicle trafficking. Furthermore, Rab8, the key regulator of rhodopsin ciliary trafficking, was mislocalized in photoreceptor cells of rpgrip1 mutants. The degeneration of rod cells is early onset, followed by the death of cone cells. These phenotypes are similar to that observed in LCA and juvenile RP patients. Our data indicate RPGRIP1 is necessary for rod outer segment development through regulating ciliary protein trafficking. The rpgrip1 mutant zebrafish may provide a platform for developing therapeutic treatments for RP patients.

Concepts: Gene, Retina, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Rod cell, Cone cell, Rhodopsin, Opsin