Author(s): Vollrath D, Feng W, Duncan JL, Yasumura D, DCruz PM,
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Abstract The Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rat is a widely studied animal model of retinal degeneration in which the inability of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) to phagocytize shed photoreceptor outer segments leads to a progressive loss of rod and cone photoreceptors. We recently used positional cloning to demonstrate that the gene Mertk likely corresponds to the retinal dystrophy (rdy) locus of the RCS rat. In the present study, we sought to determine whether gene transfer of Mertk to a RCS rat retina would result in correction of the RPE phagocytosis defect and preservation of photoreceptors. We used subretinal injection of a recombinant replication-deficient adenovirus encoding rat Mertk to deliver the gene to the eyes of young RCS rats. Electrophysiological assessment of animals 30 days after injection revealed an increased sensitivity of treated eyes to low-intensity light. Histologic and ultrastructural assessment demonstrated substantial sparing of photoreceptors, preservation of outer segment structure, and correction of the RPE phagocytosis defect in areas surrounding the injection site. Our results provide definitive evidence that mutation of Mertk underlies the RCS retinal dystrophy phenotype, and that the phenotype can be corrected by treatment of juvenile animals. To our knowledge, this is the first demonstration of complementation of both a functional cellular defect (phagocytosis) and a photoreceptor degeneration by gene transfer to the RPE. These results, together with the recent discovery of MERTK mutations in individuals with retinitis pigmentosa, emphasize the importance of the RCS rat as a model for gene therapy of diseases that arise from RPE dysfunction.
This article was published in Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
and referenced in Hereditary Genetics: Current Research