Abnormal subretinal neovascularization is characteristic of vision-threatening retinal diseases including macular telangiectasia (MacTel) and retinal angiomatous proliferation (RAP). Subretinal neovascular tufts and photoreceptor dysfunction are observed in very low-density lipoprotein receptor mutant mice (Vldlr–/–). These changes mirror those observed in MacTel and RAP patients, but the pathogenesis is largely unknown. In this study, we show that retinal microglia are closely associated with retinal neovascular tufts in Vldlr–/– mice and retinal tissue from MacTel patients; ablation of microglia/macrophages dramatically prevents formation of retinal neovascular tufts and improves neuronal function as assessed by electroretinography. VMD2-driven retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE)-specific knockouts of VEGF greatly reduced subretinal infiltration of microglia/macrophages, subsequently reducing NV tufts. These findings highlight the contribution of microglia/macrophages to the pathogenesis of NV, provide valuable clues regarding potential causative cellular mechanisms for subretinal neovascularization in MacTel and RAP patients, and suggest that targeting microglia activation may be a therapeutic option in these diseases.
Ayumi Usui-Ouchi, Yoshihiko Usui, Toshihide Kurihara, Edith Aguilar, Michael I. Dorrell, Yoichiro Ideguchi, Susumu Sakimoto, Stephen Bravo, Martin Friedlander
Efficient AAV-mediated gene delivery remains a significant obstacle to effective retinal gene therapies. Here, we apply directed evolution - guided by deep sequencing and followed by direct in vivo secondary selection of high-performing vectors with a GFP-barcoded library - to create AAV viral capsids with new capabilities to deliver genes to the outer retina in primates. A replication incompetent library, produced via providing rep in trans, was created to mitigate risk of AAV propagation. Six rounds of in vivo selection with this library in primates, involving intravitreal library administration, recovery of genomes from outer retina, and extensive next generation sequencing of each round, resulted in vectors with redirected tropism to the outer retina and increased gene delivery efficiency to retinal cells. These new viral vectors expand the toolbox of vectors available for primate retina, and may enable less invasive delivery of therapeutic genes to patients, potentially offering retina-wide infection at a similar dosage to vectors currently in clinical use.
Leah C. Byrne, Timothy P. Day, Meike Visel, Cécile Fortuny, Deniz Dalkara, William H. Merigan, David V. Schaffer, John G. Flannery
Achromatopsia (ACHM) is an autosomal recessive disease that results in severe visual loss. Symptoms of ACHM include impaired visual acuity, nystagmus, and photoaversion starting from infancy; furthermore, ACHM is associated with bilateral foveal hypoplasia and absent or severely reduced cone photoreceptor function on electroretinography. Here, we performed genetic sequencing in 3 patients from 2 families with ACHM, identifying and functionally characterizing 2 mutations in the activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) gene. We identified a homozygous deletion covering exons 8–14 of the ATF6 gene from 2 siblings from the same family. In another patient from a different family, we identified a heterozygous deletion covering exons 2 and 3 of the ATF6 gene found in trans with a previously identified ATF6 c.970C>T (p.Arg324Cys) ACHM disease allele. Recombinant ATF6 proteins bearing these exon deletions showed markedly impaired transcriptional activity by qPCR and RNA-Seq analysis compared with WT-ATF6. Finally, RNAscope revealed that ATF6 and the related ATF6B transcripts were expressed in cones as well as in all retinal layers in normal human retina. Overall, our data identify loss-of-function ATF6 disease alleles that cause human foveal disease.
Eun-Jin Lee, Wei-Chieh Jerry Chiang, Heike Kroeger, Chloe Xiaoke Bi, Daniel L. Chao, Dorota Skowronska-Krawczyk, Rebecca R. Mastey, Stephen H. Tsang, Leon Chea, Kyle Kim, Scott R. Lambert, Julia M.D. Grandjean, Britta Baumann, Isabelle Audo, Susanne Kohl, Anthony T. Moore, R. Luke Wiseman, Joseph Carroll, Jonathan H. Lin
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 (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
Effective treatments and animal models for the most prevalent neurodegenerative form of blindness in the elderly, called age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are lacking. Genome-wide association studies have identified lipid metabolism and inflammation as AMD-associated pathogenic pathways. Given liver x receptors, encoded by NR1H3 and NR1H2, are master regulators of these pathways, herein we investigated the role of LXR in human and mouse eyes as a function of age and disease, and tested the therapeutic potential of targeting LXR. We identified immunopositive LXR fragments in human extracellular early dry AMD lesions and a decrease in LXR expression within the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) as a function of age. Aged mice, lacking LXR presented with isoform dependent ocular pathologies. Specifically, loss of the Nr1h3 isoform results in pathobiologies aligned with AMD, supported by compromised visual function, accumulation of native and oxidized lipids in the outer retina, and upregulation of ocular inflammatory cytokines, while absence of Nr1h2 is associated with ocular lipoidal degeneration. Therapeutically, LXR activation, ameliorated lipid accumulation and oxidant-induced injury in RPE cells in vitro, and decreased ocular inflammatory markers and lipid deposition in a mouse model, in vivo, providing translational support for pursuing LXR-active pharmaceuticals as potential therapies for dry AMD.
Mayur Choudhary, Ebraheim N. Ismail, Pei-Li Yao, Faryan Tayyari, Roxana A. Radu, Steven Nusinowitz, Michael E. Boulton, Rajendra S. Apte, Jeffrey W. Ruberti, James T. Handa, Peter Tontonoz, Goldis Malek
Vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF) induces angiogenesis and vascular hyperpermeability in ocular tissues and is therefore a key therapeutic target for eye conditions in which these processes are dysregulated. In contrast, the therapeutic potential of VEGF’s neurotrophic roles in the eye has remained unexploited. In particular, it is not known whether modulating levels of any of the 3 major alternatively spliced VEGF isoforms might provide a therapeutic approach to promote neural health in the eye without inducing vascular pathology. Here, we have used a variety of mouse models to demonstrate differences in overall VEGF levels and VEGF isoform ratios across tissues in the healthy eye. We further show that VEGF isoform expression was differentially regulated in retinal versus corneal disease models. Among the 3 major isoforms — termed VEGF120, VEGF164, and VEGF188 — VEGF188 was upregulated to the greatest extent in injured cornea, where it was both necessary and sufficient for corneal nerve regeneration. Moreover, topical VEGF188 application further promoted corneal nerve regeneration without inducing pathological neovascularization. VEGF isoform modulation should therefore be explored further for its potential in promoting neural health in the eye.
James T. Brash, Laura Denti, Christiana Ruhrberg, Franziska Bucher
Mitochondrial quality control (MQC) is crucial for regulating central nervous system homeostasis and its disruption has been implicated in the pathogenesis of some of the most common neurodegenerative diseases. In healthy tissues, the maintenance of MQC depends upon an exquisite balance between mitophagy (removal of damaged mitochondria by autophagy) and biogenesis (de-novo synthesis of mitochondria). Here, we show that mitophagy is disrupted in diabetic retinopathy (DR) and decoupled from mitochondrial biogenesis during the progression of the disease. Diabetic retinas from human post-mortem donors and experimental mice exhibit a net loss of mitochondrial contents during the early stages of the disease process. Using novel diabetic mitophagy-reporter mice (mitoQC-Ins2Akita) alongside pMitoTimer (a molecular clock to address mitochondrial-age dynamics), we demonstrate that mitochondrial loss arose due to an inability of mitochondrial biogenesis to compensate for diabetes-exacerbated mitophagy. However, as diabetes duration increases, Pink1-dependent mitophagy deteriorates, leading to the build-up of mitochondria primed for degradation in DR. Impairment of mitophagy during prolonged diabetes is linked with the development of retinal senescence, a phenotype that blunted hyperglycaemia-induced mitophagy in mitoQC primary Müller cells. Our findings suggest that normalizing mitochondrial turnover may preserve MQC and provide novel therapeutic options for the management of DR-associated complications.
Jose R. Hombrebueno, Lauren Cairns, Louise R. Dutton, Timothy J. Lyons, Derek P. Brazil, Paul Moynagh, Tim M. Curtis, Heping Xu
Von Hippel–Lindau (Vhl) protein inhibits hypoxia-inducible factor (Hif), yet its deletion in murine retina does not cause the extensive angiogenesis expected with Hif induction. The mechanism is unclear. Here we show that retinoblastoma tumor suppressor (Rb1) constrains expression of Hif target genes in the Vhl-/- retina. Deleting Rb1 induced extensive retinal neovascularization and autophagic ablation of photoreceptors in the Vhl-/- retina. RNA sequencing, ChIP and reporter assays showed Rb1 recruitment to and repression of certain Hif target genes. Activating Rb1 by deleting cyclin D1 induced a partial defect in the retinal superficial vascular plexus (SVP). Unexpectedly, removing Vhl suppressed retinoblastoma formation in murine Rb1/Rbl1-deficient retina, but generated subretinal vascular growths resembling retinal angiomatous proliferation (RAP), and retinal capillary hemangioblastoma (RCH). Most stromal cells in the RAP/RCH-like lesions were Sox9+, suggesting a Müller glia origin, and expressed Lgals3, a marker of human brain hemangioblastoma. Thus, the Rb family limit Hif target gene expression in the Vhl-/- retina, and removing this inhibitory signal generates new models for RAP and RCH.
Ran Wei, Xiang Ren, Hongyu Kong, Zhongping Lv, Yongjiang Chen, Yunjing Tang, Yujiao Wang, Lirong Xiao, Sabiha Hacibekiroglu, Chen Liang, Andras Nagy, Rod Bremner, Danian Chen
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of central retinal vision loss worldwide, with an estimated 1 in 10 people over the age of 55 showing early signs of the condition. There are currently no forms of therapy available for the end stage of dry AMD, geographic atrophy (GA). Here, we show that the inner blood-retina barrier (iBRB) is highly dynamic and may play a contributory role in GA development. We have discovered that the gene CLDN5, which encodes claudin-5, a tight junction protein abundantly expressed at the iBRB, is regulated by BMAL1 and the circadian clock. Persistent suppression of claudin-5 expression in mice exposed to a cholesterol-enriched diet induced striking retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cell atrophy, and persistent targeted suppression of claudin-5 in the macular region of nonhuman primates induced RPE cell atrophy. Moreover, fundus fluorescein angiography in human and nonhuman primate subjects showed increased retinal vascular permeability in the evening compared with the morning. These findings implicate an inner retina–derived component in the early pathophysiological changes observed in AMD, and we suggest that restoring the integrity of the iBRB may represent a novel therapeutic target for the prevention and treatment of GA secondary to dry AMD.
Natalie Hudson, Lucia Celkova, Alan Hopkins, Chris Greene, Federica Storti, Ema Ozaki, Erin Fahey, Sofia Theodoropoulou, Paul F. Kenna, Marian M. Humphries, Annie M. Curtis, Eleanor Demmons, Akeem Browne, Shervin Liddie, Matthew S. Lawrence, Christian Grimm, Mark T. Cahill, Pete Humphries, Sarah L. Doyle, Matthew Campbell
The heterogeneity of individual cells in a tissue has been well characterized, largely using ex vivo approaches that do not permit longitudinal assessments of the same tissue over long periods of time. We demonstrate a potentially novel application of adaptive optics fluorescence microscopy to visualize and track the in situ mosaicism of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells directly in the human eye. After a short, dynamic period during which RPE cells take up i.v.-administered indocyanine green (ICG) dye, we observed a remarkably stable heterogeneity in the fluorescent pattern that gradually disappeared over a period of days. This pattern could be robustly reproduced with a new injection and follow-up imaging in the same eye out to at least 12 months, which enabled longitudinal tracking of RPE cells. Investigation of ICG uptake in primary human RPE cells and in a mouse model of ICG uptake alongside human imaging corroborated our findings that the observed mosaicism is an intrinsic property of the RPE tissue. We demonstrate a potentially novel application of fluorescence microscopy to detect subclinical changes to the RPE, a technical advance that has direct implications for improving our understanding of diseases such as oculocutaneous albinism, late-onset retinal degeneration, and Bietti crystalline dystrophy.
HaeWon Jung, Jianfei Liu, Tao Liu, Aman George, Margery G. Smelkinson, Sarah Cohen, Ruchi Sharma, Owen Schwartz, Arvydas Maminishkis, Kapil Bharti, Catherine Cukras, Laryssa A. Huryn, Brian P. Brooks, Robert Fariss, Johnny Tam
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