Neurodegenerative diseases affecting the macula constitute a major cause of incurable vision loss and exhibit considerable clinical and genetic heterogeneity, from early-onset monogenic disease to multifactorial late-onset age-related macular degeneration (AMD). As part of our continued efforts to define genetic causes of macular degeneration, we performed whole exome sequencing in four individuals of a two-generation family with autosomal dominant maculopathy and identified a rare variant p.Glu1144Lys in Fibrillin 2 (FBN2), a glycoprotein of the elastin-rich extracellular matrix (ECM). Sanger sequencing validated the segregation of this variant in the complete pedigree, including two additional affected and one unaffected individual. Sequencing of 192 maculopathy patients revealed additional rare variants, predicted to disrupt FBN2 function. We then undertook additional studies to explore the relationship of FBN2 to macular disease. We show that FBN2 localizes to Bruch's membrane and its expression appears to be reduced in aging and AMD eyes, prompting us to examine its relationship with AMD. We detect suggestive association of a common FBN2 non-synonymous variant, rs154001 (p.Val965Ile) with AMD in 10 337 cases and 11 174 controls (OR = 1.10; P-value = 3.79 × 10(-5)). Thus, it appears that rare and common variants in a single gene-FBN2-can contribute to Mendelian and complex forms of macular degeneration. Our studies provide genetic evidence for a key role of elastin microfibers and Bruch's membrane in maintaining blood-retina homeostasis and establish the importance of studying orphan diseases for understanding more common clinical phenotypes.
Rod-cone dystrophy (RCD), also known as retinitis pigmentosa, is a progressive inherited retinal disorder characterized by photoreceptor cell death and genetic heterogeneity. Mutations in many genes have been implicated in the pathophysiology of RCD, but several others remain to be identified. Herein, we applied whole-exome sequencing to a consanguineous family with one subject affected with RCD and identified a homozygous nonsense mutation, c.226C>T (p.Arg76(?)), in KIZ, which encodes centrosomal protein kizuna. Subsequent Sanger sequencing of 340 unrelated individuals with sporadic and autosomal-recessive RCD identified two other subjects carrying pathogenic variants in KIZ: one with the same homozygous nonsense mutation (c.226C>T [p.Arg76(?)]) and another with compound-heterozygous mutations c.119_122delAACT (p.Lys40Ilefs(?)14) and c.52G>T (p.Glu18(?)). Transcriptomic analysis in mice detected mRNA levels of the mouse ortholog (Plk1s1) in rod photoreceptors, as well as its decreased expression when photoreceptors degenerated in rd1 mice. The presence of the human KIZ transcript was confirmed by quantitative RT-PCR in the retina, the retinal pigment epithelium, fibroblasts, and whole-blood cells (highest expression was in the retina). RNA in situ hybridization demonstrated the presence of Plk1s1 mRNA in the outer nuclear layer of the mouse retina. Immunohistology revealed KIZ localization at the basal body of the cilia in human fibroblasts, thus shedding light on another ciliary protein implicated in autosomal-recessive RCD.
The most common hereditary retinal degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), leads to blindness by degeneration of cone photoreceptors. Meanwhile, genetic studies have shown that a significant proportion of RP genes is expressed only by rods, which raises the question of the mechanism leading to the degeneration of cones. Following the concept of sustainability factor cones, rods secrete survival factors that are necessary to maintain the cones, named Rod-derived Cone Viability Factors (RdCVFs). In patients suffering from RP, loss of rods results in the loss of RdCVFs expression and followed by cone degeneration. We have identified the bifunctional genes nucleoredoxin-like 1 and 2 that encode for, by differential splicing, a thioredoxin enzyme and a cone survival factor, respectively RdCVF and RdCVF2. The administration of these survival factors would maintain cones and central vision in most patients suffering from RP.
Inherited retinal diseases are a group of clinically and genetically heterogeneous disorders for which a significant number of cases remain genetically unresolved. Increasing knowledge on underlying pathogenic mechanisms with precise phenotype-genotype correlation is, however, critical for establishing novel therapeutic interventions for these yet incurable neurodegenerative conditions. We report phenotypic and genetic characterization of a large family presenting an unusual autosomal dominant retinal dystrophy. Phenotypic characterization revealed a retinopathy dominated by inner retinal dysfunction and ganglion cell abnormalities. Whole-exome sequencing identified a missense variant (c.782A>C, p.Glu261Ala) in ITM2B coding for Integral Membrane Protein 2B, which co-segregates with the disease in this large family and lies within the 24.6 Mb interval identified by microsatellite haplotyping. The physiological role of ITM2B remains unclear and has never been investigated in the retina. RNA in situ hybridization reveals Itm2b mRNA in inner nuclear and ganglion cell layers within the retina, with immunostaining demonstrating the presence of the corresponding protein in the same layers. Furthermore, ITM2B in the retina co-localizes with its known interacting partner in cerebral tissue, the amyloid ? precursor protein, critical in Alzheimer disease physiopathology. Interestingly, two distinct ITM2B mutations, both resulting in a longer protein product, had already been reported in two large autosomal dominant families with Alzheimer-like dementia but never in subjects with isolated retinal diseases. These findings should better define pathogenic mechanism(s) associated with ITM2B mutations underlying dementia or retinal disease and add a new candidate to the list of genes involved in inherited retinal dystrophies.
Retinal detachment (RD) describes a separation of the neurosensory retina from the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE). The RPE is essential for normal function of the light sensitive neurons, the photoreceptors. Detachment of the retina from the RPE creates a physical gap that is filled with extracellular fluid. RD initiates cellular and molecular adverse events that affect both the neurosensory retina and the RPE since the physiological exchange of ions and metabolites is severely perturbed. The consequence for vision is related to the duration of the detachment since a rapid reapposition of the two tissues results in the restoration of vision (1). The treatment of RD is exclusively surgical. Removal of vitreous gel (vitrectomy) is followed by the removal non essential part of the retina around the detached area to favor retinal detachment. The removed retinal specimens are res nullius (nothing) and consequently normally discarded. To recover RNA from these surgical specimens, we developed the procedure jouRNAl that allows RNA conservation during the transfer from the surgical block to the laboratory. We also standardized a protocol to purify RNA by cesium chloride ultracentrifugation to assure that the purified RNAs are suitable for global gene expression analysis. The quality of the RNA was validated both by RT-PCR and microarray analysis. Analysis of the data shows a simultaneous involvement of inflammation and photoreceptor degeneration during RD.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common cause of blindness in older individuals. To accelerate the understanding of AMD biology and help design new therapies, we executed a collaborative genome-wide association study, including >17,100 advanced AMD cases and >60,000 controls of European and Asian ancestry. We identified 19 loci associated at P < 5 × 10(-8). These loci show enrichment for genes involved in the regulation of complement activity, lipid metabolism, extracellular matrix remodeling and angiogenesis. Our results include seven loci with associations reaching P < 5 × 10(-8) for the first time, near the genes COL8A1-FILIP1L, IER3-DDR1, SLC16A8, TGFBR1, RAD51B, ADAMTS9 and B3GALTL. A genetic risk score combining SNP genotypes from all loci showed similar ability to distinguish cases and controls in all samples examined. Our findings provide new directions for biological, genetic and therapeutic studies of AMD.
Retinitis pigmentosa is characterized by the sequential loss of rod and cone photoreceptors. The preservation of cones would prevent blindness due to their essential role in human vision. Rod-derived Cone Viability Factor is a thioredoxin-like protein that is secreted by rods and is involved in cone survival. To validate the activity of Rod-derived Cone Viability Factors (RdCVFs) as therapeutic agents for treating retinitis Pigmentosa, we have developed e-conome, an automated cell counting platform for retinal flat mounts of rodent models of cone degeneration. This automated quantification method allows for faster data analysis thereby accelerating translational research.
Retinal detachment often leads to a severe and permanent loss of vision and its therapeutic management remains to this day exclusively surgical. We have used surgical specimens to perform a differential analysis of the transcriptome of human retinal tissues following detachment in order to identify new potential pharmacological targets that could be used in combination with surgery to further improve final outcome.
Mutations in the CRB1 gene are associated with variable phenotypes of severe retinal dystrophies, ranging from leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) to rod-cone dystrophy, also called retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Moreover, retinal dystrophies resulting from CRB1 mutations may be accompanied by specific fundus features: preservation of the para-arteriolar retinal pigment epithelium (PPRPE) and retinal telangiectasia with exudation (also referred to as Coats-like vasculopathy). In this publication, we report seven novel mutations and classify over 150 reported CRB1 sequence variants that were found in more that 240 patients. The data from previous reports were used to analyze a potential correlation between CRB1 variants and the clinical features of respective patients. This meta-analysis suggests that the differential phenotype of patients with CRB1 mutations is due to additional modifying factors rather than particular mutant allele combination.
Gene therapy studies in primates can provide important information regarding vector tropism, specific cellular expression, biodistribution, and safety prior to clinical trials. In this study, we report the assessment of transduction efficiency of recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) vectors using human postmortem retina. Transductions were performed using two in vitro models prepared from human tissue: dissociated cell cultures and retinal explants. These models were used to assess cellular tropism and selectivity of rAAV vectors encoding for fluorescent proteins under the control of different promoters. These promoters were a ubiquitous cytomegalovirus promoter and a cell type-specific promoter targeting expression in ON bipolar cells. The results demonstrate that this in vitro approach can limit the use of living primates for the validation of gene therapy in vision and ophthalmology.
RdCVF and RdCVF2, encoded by the nucleoredoxin-like genes NXNL1 and NXNL2, are trophic factors with therapeutic potential that are involved in cone photoreceptor survival. Studying how their expression is regulated in the retina has implications for understanding both their activity and the mechanisms determining cell-type specificity within the retina.
The identification of one mechanism that causes vision loss in inherited degenerative retinal disorders revealed a new signaling molecule that represents a potential therapy for these currently untreatable diseases. This protein, called rod-derived cone viability factor (RdCVF), maintains the function and consequently the viability of cone photoreceptor cells in the retina; mice that lack this factor exhibit a progressive loss of photoreceptor cells. The gene encoding RdCVF also encodes, by differential splicing, a second product that has characteristics of a thioredoxin-like enzyme and protects both photoreceptor cells and, more specifically, its interacting protein partner, the tau protein, against oxidative damage. This signaling pathway potentially links environmental insults to an endogenous neuroprotective response.
To examine in rodent models of retinitis pigmentosa (RP) the expression of the neuroprotectants metallothionein-I and -II and of megalin, an endocytic receptor that mediates their transport into neurons.
Transplantation as a therapeutic strategy for inherited retinal degeneration has been historically viewed to restore vision as a method by replacing the lost retinal cells and attempting to reconstruct the neural circuitry with stem cells, progenitor cells and mature neural retinal cells.
Rod-derived Cone Viability Factor (RdCVF) is a trophic factor with therapeutic potential for the treatment of retinitis pigmentosa, a retinal disease that commonly results in blindness. RdCVF is encoded by Nucleoredoxin-like 1 (Nxnl1), a gene homologous with the family of thioredoxins that participate in the defense against oxidative stress. RdCVF expression is lost after rod degeneration in the first phase of retinitis pigmentosa, and this loss has been implicated in the more clinically significant secondary cone degeneration that often occurs. Here, we describe a study of the Nxnl1 promoter using an approach that combines promoter and transcriptomic analysis. By transfection of selected candidate transcription factors, chosen based upon their expression pattern, we identified the homeodomain proteins CHX10/VSX2, VSX1 and PAX4, as well as the zinc finger protein SP3, as factors that can stimulate both the mouse and human Nxnl1 promoter. In addition, CHX10/VSX2 binds to the Nxnl1 promoter in vivo. Since CHX10/VSX2 is expressed predominantly in the inner retina, this finding motivated us to demonstrate that RdCVF is expressed in the inner as well as the outer retina. Interestingly, the loss of rods in the rd1 mouse, a model of retinitis pigmentosa, is associated with decreased expression of RdCVF by inner retinal cells as well as by rods. Based upon these results, we propose an alternative therapeutic strategy aimed at recapitulating RdCVF expression in the inner retina, where cell loss is not significant, to prevent secondary cone death and central vision loss in patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa.
Night vision requires signaling from rod photoreceptors to adjacent bipolar cells in the retina. Mutations in the genes NYX and GRM6, expressed in ON bipolar cells, lead to a disruption of the ON bipolar cell response. This dysfunction is present in patients with complete X-linked and autosomal-recessive congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB) and can be assessed by standard full-field electroretinography (ERG), showing severely reduced rod b-wave amplitude and slightly altered cone responses. Although many cases of complete CSNB (cCSNB) are caused by mutations in NYX and GRM6, in approximately 60% of the patients the gene defect remains unknown. Animal models of human diseases are a good source for candidate genes, and we noted that a cCSNB phenotype present in homozygous Appaloosa horses is associated with downregulation of TRPM1. TRPM1, belonging to the family of transient receptor potential channels, is expressed in ON bipolar cells and therefore qualifies as an excellent candidate. Indeed, mutation analysis of 38 patients with CSNB identified ten unrelated cCSNB patients with 14 different mutations in this gene. The mutation spectrum comprises missense, splice-site, deletion, and nonsense mutations. We propose that the cCSNB phenotype in these patients is due to the absence of functional TRPM1 in retinal ON bipolar cells.
Pre-mRNA processing factor 31 (PRPF31) is a ubiquitous protein needed for the assembly of the pre-mRNA splicing machinery. It has been shown that mutations in this gene cause autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa 11 (RP11), which is characterized by rod-cell degeneration. Interestingly, mutations in this ubiquitously expressed gene do not lead to phenotypes other than retinal malfunction. Furthermore, the dominant inheritance pattern has shown incomplete penetrance, which poses interesting questions about the disease mechanism of RP11.
The gene encoding apolipoprotein E (APOE) on chromosome 19 is the only confirmed susceptibility locus for late-onset Alzheimers disease. To identify other risk loci, we conducted a large genome-wide association study of 2,032 individuals from France with Alzheimers disease (cases) and 5,328 controls. Markers outside APOE with suggestive evidence of association (P < 10(-5)) were examined in collections from Belgium, Finland, Italy and Spain totaling 3,978 Alzheimers disease cases and 3,297 controls. Two loci gave replicated evidence of association: one within CLU (also called APOJ), encoding clusterin or apolipoprotein J, on chromosome 8 (rs11136000, OR = 0.86, 95% CI 0.81-0.90, P = 7.5 x 10(-9) for combined data) and the other within CR1, encoding the complement component (3b/4b) receptor 1, on chromosome 1 (rs6656401, OR = 1.21, 95% CI 1.14-1.29, P = 3.7 x 10(-9) for combined data). Previous biological studies support roles of CLU and CR1 in the clearance of beta amyloid (Abeta) peptide, the principal constituent of amyloid plaques, which are one of the major brain lesions of individuals with Alzheimers disease.
Rod-derived cone viability factor (RdCVF) is produced by the Nxnl1 gene that codes for a second polypeptide, RdCVFL, by alternative splicing. Although the role of RdCVF in promoting cone survival has been described, the implication of RdCVFL, a putative thioredoxin enzyme, in the protection of photoreceptors is presently unknown. Using a proteomics approach we identified 90 proteins interacting with RdCVFL including the microtubule-binding protein TAU. We demonstrate that the level of phosphorylation of TAU is increased in the retina of the Nxnl1(-/-) mice as it is hyperphosphorylated in the brain of patients suffering from Alzheimer disease, presumably in some cases through oxidative stress. Using a cell-based assay, we show that RdCVFL inhibits TAU phosphorylation. In vitro, RdCVFL protects TAU from oxidative damage. Photooxidative stress is implicated in retinal degeneration, particularly in retinitis pigmentosa, where it is considered to be a contributor to secondary cone death. The functional interaction between RdCVFL and TAU described here is the first characterization of the RdCVFL signaling pathway involved in neuronal cell death mediated by oxidative stress.
In retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a majority of causative mutations affect genes solely expressed in rods; however, cone degeneration inevitably follows rod cell loss. Following transplantation and in vitro studies, we demonstrated the role of photoreceptor cell paracrine interactions and identified a Rod-derived Cone Viability Factor (RdCVF), which increases cone survival. In order to establish the clinical relevance of such mechanism, we assessed the functional benefit afforded by the injection of this factor in a frequent type of rhodopsin mutation, the P23H rat. In this model of autosomal dominant RP, RdCVF expression decreases in parallel with primary rod degeneration, which is followed by cone loss. RdCVF protein injections induced an increase in cone cell number and, more important, a further increase in the corresponding electroretinogram (ERG). These results indicate that RdCVF can not only rescue cones but also preserve significantly their function. Interestingly, the higher amplitude of the functional versus the survival effect of RdCVF on cones indicates that RdCVF is acting more directly on cone function. The demonstration at the functional level of the therapeutic potential of RdCVF in the most frequent of dominant RP mutations paves the way toward the use of RdCVF for preserving central vision in many RP patients.
Retinal ganglion cell (RGC) degeneration occurs in numerous retinal diseases leading to blindness, either as a primary process like in glaucoma, or secondary to photoreceptor loss. However, no commercial drug is yet directly targeting RGCs for their neuroprotection. In the 70s, taurine, a small sulfonic acid provided by nutrition, was found to be essential for the survival of photoreceptors, but this dependence was not related to any retinal disease. More recently, taurine deprivation was incriminated in the retinal toxicity of an antiepileptic drug. We demonstrate here that taurine can improve RGC survival in culture or in different animal models of RGC degeneration. Taurine effect on RGC survival was assessed in vitro on primary pure RCG cultures under serum-deprivation conditions, and on NMDA-treated retinal explants from adult rats. In vivo, taurine was administered through the drinking water in two glaucomatous animal models (DBA/2J mice and rats with vein occlusion) and in a model of Retinitis pigmentosa with secondary RGC degeneration (P23H rats). After a 6-day incubation, 1 mM taurine significantly enhanced RGCs survival (+68%), whereas control RGCs were cultured in a taurine-free medium, containing all natural amino-acids. This effect was found to rely on taurine-uptake by RGCs. Furthermore taurine (1 mM) partly prevented NMDA-induced RGC excitotoxicity. Finally, taurine supplementation increased RGC densities both in DBA/2J mice, in rats with vein occlusion and in P23H rats by contrast to controls drinking taurine-free water. This study indicates that enriched taurine nutrition can directly promote RGC survival through RGC intracellular pathways. It provides evidence that taurine can positively interfere with retinal degenerative diseases.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of visual loss in Western populations. Susceptibility is influenced by age, environmental and genetic factors. Known genetic risk loci do not account for all the heritability. We therefore carried out a genome-wide association study of AMD in the UK population with 893 cases of advanced AMD and 2199 controls. This showed an association with the well-established AMD risk loci ARMS2 (age-related maculopathy susceptibility 2)-HTRA1 (HtrA serine peptidase 1) (P =2.7 × 10(-72)), CFH (complement factor H) (P =2.3 × 10(-47)), C2 (complement component 2)-CFB (complement factor B) (P =5.2 × 10(-9)), C3 (complement component 3) (P =2.2 × 10(-3)) and CFI (P =3.6 × 10(-3)) and with more recently reported risk loci at VEGFA (P =1.2 × 10(-3)) and LIPC (hepatic lipase) (P =0.04). Using a replication sample of 1411 advanced AMD cases and 1431 examined controls, we confirmed a novel association between AMD and single-nucleotide polymorphisms on chromosome 6p21.3 at TNXB (tenascin XB)-FKBPL (FK506 binding protein like) [rs12153855/rs9391734; discovery P =4.3 × 10(-7), replication P =3.0 × 10(-4), combined P =1.3 × 10(-9), odds ratio (OR) = 1.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.3-1.6] and the neighbouring gene NOTCH4 (Notch 4) (rs2071277; discovery P =3.2 × 10(-8), replication P =3.8 × 10(-5), combined P =2.0 × 10(-11), OR = 1.3, 95% CI = 1.2-1.4). These associations remained significant in conditional analyses which included the adjacent C2-CFB locus. TNXB, FKBPL and NOTCH4 are all plausible AMD susceptibility genes, but further research will be needed to identify the causal variants and determine whether any of these genes are involved in the pathogenesis of AMD.
The rod-derived cone viability factors, RdCVF and RdCVF2, have potential therapeutical interests for the treatment of inherited photoreceptor degenerations. In the mouse lacking Nxnl2, the gene encoding RdCVF2, the progressive decline of the visual performance of the cones in parallel with their degeneration, arises due to the loss of trophic support from RdCVF2. In contrary, the progressive loss of rod visual function of the Nxnl2-/- mouse results from a decrease in outer segment length, mediated by a cell autonomous mechanism involving the putative thioredoxin protein RdCVF2L, the second spliced product of the Nxnl2 gene. This novel signaling mechanism extends to olfaction as shown by the progressive impairment of olfaction in aged Nxnl2-/- mice and the protection of olfactory neurons by RdCVF2. This study shows that Nxnl2 is a bi-functional gene involved in the maintenance of both the function and the viability of sensory neurons.
Congenital stationary night blindness (CSNB) is a heterogeneous retinal disorder characterized by visual impairment under low light conditions. This disorder is due to a signal transmission defect from rod photoreceptors to adjacent bipolar cells in the retina. Two forms can be distinguished clinically, complete CSNB (cCSNB) or incomplete CSNB; the two forms are distinguished on the basis of the affected signaling pathway. Mutations in NYX, GRM6, and TRPM1, expressed in the outer plexiform layer (OPL) lead to disruption of the ON-bipolar cell response and have been seen in patients with cCSNB. Whole-exome sequencing in cCSNB patients lacking mutations in the known genes led to the identification of a homozygous missense mutation (c.1807C>T [p.His603Tyr]) in one consanguineous autosomal-recessive cCSNB family and a homozygous frameshift mutation in GPR179 (c.278delC [p.Pro93Glnfs(?)57]) in a simplex male cCSNB patient. Additional screening with Sanger sequencing of 40 patients identified three other cCSNB patients harboring additional allelic mutations in GPR179. Although, immunhistological studies revealed Gpr179 in the OPL in wild-type mouse retina, Gpr179 did not colocalize with specific ON-bipolar markers. Interestingly, Gpr179 was highly concentrated in horizontal cells and Müller cell endfeet. The involvement of these cells in cCSNB and the specific function of GPR179 remain to be elucidated.
Inherited retinal disorders are clinically and genetically heterogeneous with more than 150 gene defects accounting for the diversity of disease phenotypes. So far, mutation detection was mainly performed by APEX technology and direct Sanger sequencing of known genes. However, these methods are time consuming, expensive and unable to provide a result if the patient carries a new gene mutation. In addition, multiplicity of phenotypes associated with the same gene defect may be overlooked.
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.
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