Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) is a group of inherited retinal diseases characterized by early-onset, rapid loss of photoreceptor cells. Despite the discovery of a growing number of genes associated with this disease, the molecular mechanisms of photoreceptor cell degeneration of most LCA subtypes remain poorly understood. Here, using retina-specific affinity proteomics combined with ultrastructure expansion microscopy, we reveal the structural and molecular defects underlying LCA type 5 (LCA5) with nanoscale resolution. We show that LCA5-encoded lebercilin, together with retinitis pigmentosa 1 protein (RP1) and the intraflagellar transport (IFT) proteins IFT81 and IFT88, localized at the bulge region of the photoreceptor outer segment (OS), a region crucial for OS membrane disc formation. Next, we demonstrate that mutant mice deficient in lebercilin exhibited early axonemal defects at the bulge region and the distal OS, accompanied by reduced levels of RP1 and IFT proteins, affecting membrane disc formation and presumably leading to photoreceptor death. Finally, adeno-associated virus–based LCA5 gene augmentation partially restored the bulge region, preserved OS axoneme structure and membrane disc formation, and resulted in photoreceptor cell survival. Our approach thus provides a next level of assessment of retinal (gene) therapy efficacy at the molecular level.
Siebren Faber, Olivier Mercey, Katrin Junger, Alejandro Garanto, Helen May-Simera, Marius Ueffing, Rob W.J. Collin, Karsten Boldt, Paul Guichard, Virginie Hamel, Ronald Roepman