Vision loss in age-related macular degeneration (AMD) stems from disruption of photoreceptor cells in the macula, the central retinal area required for high-acuity vision. Mice and rats have no macula, but surgical insertion of a subretinal implant can induce localized photoreceptor degeneration due to chronic separation from retinal pigment epithelium, simulating a key aspect of AMD. We find that the implant-induced loss of photoreceptors in rat retina leads to local changes in the physiology of downstream retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), similar to changes in RGCs of rodent models of retinitis pigmentosa (RP), an inherited disease causing retina-wide photoreceptor degeneration. The local implant-induced changes in RGCs include enhanced intrinsic excitability leading to accelerated spontaneous firing, increased membrane permeability to fluorescent dyes, and enhanced photosensitization by azobenzene photoswitches. The local physiological changes are correlated with an increase in retinoic acid receptor–induced (RAR-induced) gene transcription, the key process underlying retinal remodeling in mouse models of RP. Hence the loss of photoreceptors, whether by local physical perturbation or by inherited mutation, leads to a stereotypical set of pathophysiological consequences in RGCs. These findings implicate RAR as a possible common therapeutic target for reversing the signal-corrupting effects of retinal remodeling in both RP and AMD.
Bristol Denlinger, Zachary Helft, Michael Telias, Henri Lorach, Daniel Palanker, Richard H. Kramer