Inherited retinal degenerations are a common cause of untreatable blindness worldwide, with retinitis pigmentosa and cone dystrophy affecting approximately 1 in 3500 and 1 in 10,000 individuals, respectively. A major limitation to the development of effective therapies is the lack of availability of animal models that fully replicate the human condition. Particularly for cone disorders, rodent, canine, and feline models with no true macula have substantive limitations. By contrast, the cone-rich macula of a nonhuman primate (NHP) closely mirrors that of the human retina. Consequently, well-defined NHP models of heritable retinal diseases, particularly cone disorders that are predictive of human conditions, are necessary to more efficiently advance new therapies for patients. We have identified 4 related NHPs at the California National Primate Research Center with visual impairment and findings from clinical ophthalmic examination, advanced retinal imaging, and electrophysiology consistent with achromatopsia. Genetic sequencing confirmed a homozygous R565Q missense mutation in the catalytic domain of PDE6C, a cone-specific phototransduction enzyme associated with achromatopsia in humans. Biochemical studies demonstrate that the mutant mRNA is translated into a stable protein that displays normal cellular localization but is unable to hydrolyze cyclic GMP (cGMP). This NHP model of a cone disorder will not only serve as a therapeutic testing ground for achromatopsia gene replacement, but also for optimization of gene editing in the macula and of cone cell replacement in general.
Ala Moshiri, Rui Chen, Soohyun Kim, R. Alan Harris, Yumei Li, Muthuswamy Raveendran, Sarah Davis, Qingnan Liang, Ori Pomerantz, Jun Wang, Laura Garzel, Ashley Cameron, Glenn Yiu, J. Timothy Stout, Yijun Huang, Christopher J. Murphy, Jeffrey Roberts, Kota N. Gopalakrishna, Kimberly Boyd, Nikolai O. Artemyev, Jeffrey Rogers, Sara M. Thomasy
Mutations in CNGA3 and CNGB3, the genes encoding the subunits of the tetrameric cone photoreceptor cyclic nucleotide–gated ion channel, cause achromatopsia, a congenital retinal disorder characterized by loss of cone function. However, a small number of patients carrying the CNGB3/c.1208G>A;p.R403Q mutation present with a variable retinal phenotype ranging from complete and incomplete achromatopsia to moderate cone dysfunction or progressive cone dystrophy. By exploring a large patient cohort and published cases, we identified 16 unrelated individuals who were homozygous or (compound-)heterozygous for the CNGB3/c.1208G>A;p.R403Q mutation. In-depth genetic and clinical analysis revealed a co-occurrence of a mutant CNGA3 allele in a high proportion of these patients (10 of 16), likely contributing to the disease phenotype. To verify these findings, we generated a Cngb3R403Q/R403Q mouse model, which was crossbred with Cnga3-deficient (Cnga3–/–) mice to obtain triallelic Cnga3+/– Cngb3R403Q/R403Q mutants. As in human subjects, there was a striking genotype-phenotype correlation, since the presence of 1 Cnga3-null allele exacerbated the cone dystrophy phenotype in Cngb3R403Q/R403Q mice. These findings strongly suggest a digenic and triallelic inheritance pattern in a subset of patients with achromatopsia/severe cone dystrophy linked to the CNGB3/p.R403Q mutation, with important implications for diagnosis, prognosis, and genetic counseling.
Markus Burkard, Susanne Kohl, Timm Krätzig, Naoyuki Tanimoto, Christina Brennenstuhl, Anne E. Bausch, Katrin Junger, Peggy Reuter, Vithiyanjali Sothilingam, Susanne C. Beck, Gesine Huber, Xi-Qin Ding, Anja K. Mayer, Britta Baumann, Nicole Weisschuh, Ditta Zobor, Gesa-Astrid Hahn, Ulrich Kellner, Sascha Venturelli, Elvir Becirovic, Peter Charbel Issa, Robert K. Koenekoop, Günther Rudolph, John Heckenlively, Paul Sieving, Richard G. Weleber, Christian Hamel, Xiangang Zong, Martin Biel, Robert Lukowski, Matthias W. Seeliger, Stylianos Michalakis, Bernd Wissinger, Peter Ruth
Ciliopathies are clinically overlapping genetic disorders involving structural and functional abnormalities of cilia. Currently, there are no small-molecule drugs available to treat ciliary defects in ciliopathies. Our phenotype-based screen identified the flavonoid eupatilin and its analogs as lead compounds for developing ciliopathy medication. CEP290, a gene mutated in several ciliopathies, encodes a protein that forms a complex with NPHP5 to support the function of the ciliary transition zone. Eupatilin relieved ciliogenesis and ciliary receptor delivery defects resulting from deletion of CEP290. In rd16 mice harboring a blinding Cep290 in-frame deletion, eupatilin treatment improved both opsin transport to the photoreceptor outer segment and electrophysiological responses of the retina to light stimulation. The rescue effect was due to eupatilin-mediated inhibition of calmodulin binding to NPHP5, which promoted NPHP5 recruitment to the ciliary base. Our results suggest that deficiency of a ciliopathy protein could be mitigated by small-molecule compounds that target other ciliary components that interact with the ciliopathy protein.
Yong Joon Kim, Sungsoo Kim, Yooju Jung, Eunji Jung, Ho Jeong Kwon, Joon Kim
Precision medicine seeks to treat disease with molecular specificity. Advances in genome sequence analysis, gene delivery, and genome surgery have allowed clinician-scientists to treat genetic conditions at the level of their pathology. As a result, progress in treating retinal disease using genetic tools has advanced tremendously over the past several decades. Breakthroughs in gene delivery vectors, both viral and nonviral, have allowed the delivery of genetic payloads in preclinical models of retinal disorders and have paved the way for numerous successful clinical trials. Moreover, the adaptation of CRISPR-Cas systems for genome engineering have enabled the correction of both recessive and dominant pathogenic alleles, expanding the disease-modifying power of gene therapies. Here, we highlight the translational progress of gene therapy and genome editing of several retinal disorders, including RPE65-, CEP290-, and GUY2D-associated Leber congenital amaurosis, as well as choroideremia, achromatopsia, Mer tyrosine kinase– (MERTK–) and RPGR X-linked retinitis pigmentosa, Usher syndrome, neovascular age-related macular degeneration, X-linked retinoschisis, Stargardt disease, and Leber hereditary optic neuropathy.
James E. DiCarlo, Vinit B. Mahajan, Stephen H. Tsang
Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a major cause of blindness that affects 1.5 million people worldwide. Mutations in cyclic nucleotide-gated channel β 1 (CNGB1) cause approximately 4% of autosomal recessive RP. Gene augmentation therapy shows promise for treating inherited retinal degenerations; however, relevant animal models and biomarkers of progression in patients with RP are needed to assess therapeutic outcomes. Here, we evaluated RP patients with CNGB1 mutations for potential biomarkers of progression and compared human phenotypes with those of mouse and dog models of the disease. Additionally, we used gene augmentation therapy in a CNGβ1-deficient dog model to evaluate potential translation to patients. CNGB1-deficient RP patients and mouse and dog models had a similar phenotype characterized by early loss of rod function and slow rod photoreceptor loss with a secondary decline in cone function. Advanced imaging showed promise for evaluating RP progression in human patients, and gene augmentation using adeno-associated virus vectors robustly sustained the rescue of rod function and preserved retinal structure in the dog model. Together, our results reveal an early loss of rod function in CNGB1-deficient patients and a wide window for therapeutic intervention. Moreover, the identification of potential biomarkers of outcome measures, availability of relevant animal models, and robust functional rescue from gene augmentation therapy support future work to move CNGB1-RP therapies toward clinical trials.
Simon M. Petersen-Jones, Laurence M. Occelli, Paige A. Winkler, Winston Lee, Janet R. Sparrow, Mai Tsukikawa, Sanford L. Boye, Vince Chiodo, Jenina E. Capasso, Elvir Becirovic, Christian Schön, Mathias W. Seeliger, Alex V. Levin, Stylianos Michalakis, William W. Hauswirth, Stephen H. Tsang
Primary congenital glaucoma (PCG) is a leading cause of blindness in children worldwide and is caused by developmental defects in 2 aqueous humor outflow structures, Schlemm’s canal (SC) and the trabecular meshwork. We previously identified loss-of-function mutations in the angiopoietin (ANGPT) receptor TEK in families with PCG and showed that ANGPT/TEK signaling is essential for SC development. Here, we describe roles for the major ANGPT ligands in the development of the aqueous outflow pathway. We determined that ANGPT1 is essential for SC development, and that Angpt1-knockout mice form a severely hypomorphic canal with elevated intraocular pressure. By contrast, ANGPT2 was dispensable, although mice deficient in both Angpt1 and Angpt2 completely lacked SC, indicating that ANGPT2 compensates for the loss of ANGPT1. In addition, we identified 3 human subjects with rare ANGPT1 variants within an international cohort of 284 PCG patients. Loss of function in 2 of the 3 patient alleles was observed by functional analysis of ANGPT1 variants in a combined in silico, in vitro, and in vivo approach, supporting a causative role for ANGPT1 in disease. By linking ANGPT1 with PCG, these results highlight the importance of ANGPT/TEK signaling in glaucoma pathogenesis and identify a candidate target for therapeutic development.
Benjamin R. Thomson, Tomokazu Souma, Stuart W. Tompson, Tuncer Onay, Krishnakumar Kizhatil, Owen M. Siggs, Liang Feng, Kristina N. Whisenhunt, Tammy L. Yanovitch, Luba Kalaydjieva, Dimitar N. Azmanov, Simone Finzi, Christine E. Tanna, Alex W. Hewitt, David A. Mackey, Yasmin S. Bradfield, Emmanuelle Souzeau, Shari Javadiyan, Janey L. Wiggs, Francesca Pasutto, Xiaorong Liu, Simon W.M. John, Jamie E. Craig, Jing Jin, Terri L. Young, Susan E. Quaggin
Astrocytes perform critical non–cell autonomous roles following CNS injury that involve either neurotoxic or neuroprotective effects. Yet the nature of potential prosurvival cues has remained unclear. In the current study, we utilized the close interaction between astrocytes and retinal ganglion cells (RGCs) in the eye to characterize a secreted neuroprotective signal present in retinal astrocyte conditioned medium (ACM). Rather than a conventional peptide neurotrophic factor, we identified a prominent lipid component of the neuroprotective signal through metabolomics screening. The lipoxins LXA4 and LXB4 are small lipid mediators that act locally to dampen inflammation, but they have not been linked directly to neuronal actions. Here, we determined that LXA4 and LXB4 are synthesized in the inner retina, but their levels are reduced following injury. Injection of either lipoxin was sufficient for neuroprotection following acute injury, while inhibition of key lipoxin pathway components exacerbated injury-induced damage. Although LXA4 signaling has been extensively investigated, LXB4, the less studied lipoxin, emerged to be more potent in protection. Moreover, LXB4 neuroprotection was different from that of established LXA4 signaling, and therapeutic LXB4 treatment was efficacious in a chronic model of the common neurodegenerative disease glaucoma. Together, these results identify a potential paracrine mechanism that coordinates neuronal homeostasis and inflammation in the CNS.
Izhar Livne-Bar, Jessica Wei, Hsin-Hua Liu, Samih Alqawlaq, Gah-Jone Won, Alessandra Tuccitto, Karsten Gronert, John G. Flanagan, Jeremy M. Sivak
The devastating sequelae of diabetes mellitus include microvascular permeability, which results in retinopathy. Despite clinical and scientific advances, there remains a need for new approaches to treat retinopathy. Here, we have presented a possible treatment strategy, whereby targeting the small GTPase ARF6 alters VEGFR2 trafficking and reverses signs of pathology in 4 animal models that represent features of diabetic retinopathy and in a fifth model of ocular pathological angiogenesis. Specifically, we determined that the same signaling pathway utilizes distinct GEFs to sequentially activate ARF6, and these GEFs exert distinct but complementary effects on VEGFR2 trafficking and signal transduction. ARF6 activation was independently regulated by 2 different ARF GEFs — ARNO and GEP100. Interaction between VEGFR2 and ARNO activated ARF6 and stimulated VEGFR2 internalization, whereas a VEGFR2 interaction with GEP100 activated ARF6 to promote VEGFR2 recycling via coreceptor binding. Intervening in either pathway inhibited VEGFR2 signal output. Finally, using a combination of in vitro, cellular, genetic, and pharmacologic techniques, we demonstrated that ARF6 is pivotal in VEGFR2 trafficking and that targeting ARF6-mediated VEGFR2 trafficking has potential as a therapeutic approach for retinal vascular diseases such as diabetic retinopathy.
Weiquan Zhu, Dallas S. Shi, Jacob M. Winter, Bianca E. Rich, Zongzhong Tong, Lise K. Sorensen, Helong Zhao, Yi Huang, Zhengfu Tai, Tara M. Mleynek, Jae Hyuk Yoo, Christine Dunn, Jing Ling, Jake A. Bergquist, Jackson R. Richards, Amanda Jiang, Lisa A. Lesniewski, M. Elizabeth Hartnett, Diane M. Ward, Alan L. Mueller, Kirill Ostanin, Kirk R. Thomas, Shannon J. Odelberg, Dean Y. Li
Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is often caused by elevated intraocular pressure (IOP), which arises due to increased resistance to aqueous humor outflow (AHO). Aqueous humor flows through Schlemm’s canal (SC), a lymphatic-like vessel encircling the cornea, and via intercellular spaces of ciliary muscle cells. However, the mechanisms underlying increased AHO resistance are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that signaling between angiopoietin (Angpt) and the Angpt receptor Tie2, which is critical for SC formation, is also indispensable for maintaining SC integrity during adulthood. Deletion of Angpt1/Angpt2 or Tie2 in adult mice severely impaired SC integrity and transcytosis, leading to elevated IOP, retinal neuron damage, and impairment of retinal ganglion cell function, all hallmarks of POAG in humans. We found that SC integrity is maintained by interconnected and coordinated functions of Angpt-Tie2 signaling, AHO, and Prox1 activity. These functions diminish in the SC during aging, leading to impaired integrity and transcytosis. Intriguingly, Tie2 reactivation using a Tie2 agonistic antibody rescued the POAG phenotype in Angpt1/Angpt2-deficient mice and rejuvenated the SC in aged mice. These results indicate that the Angpt-Tie2 system is essential for SC integrity. The impairment of this system underlies POAG-associated pathogenesis, supporting the possibility that Tie2 agonists could be a therapeutic option for glaucoma.
Jaeryung Kim, Dae-Young Park, Hosung Bae, Do Young Park, Dongkyu Kim, Choong-kun Lee, Sukhyun Song, Tae-Young Chung, Dong Hui Lim, Yoshiaki Kubota, Young-Kwon Hong, Yulong He, Hellmut G. Augustin, Guillermo Oliver, Gou Young Koh
The progressive death of retinal ganglion cells and resulting visual deficits are hallmarks of glaucoma, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. In many neurodegenerative diseases, cell death induced by primary insult is followed by a wave of secondary loss. Gap junctions (GJs), intercellular channels composed of subunit connexins, can play a major role in secondary cell death by forming conduits through which toxic molecules from dying cells pass to and injure coupled neighbors. Here we have shown that pharmacological blockade of GJs or genetic ablation of connexin 36 (Cx36) subunits, which are highly expressed by retinal neurons, markedly reduced loss of neurons and optic nerve axons in a mouse model of glaucoma. Further, functional parameters that are negatively affected in glaucoma, including the electroretinogram, visual evoked potential, visual spatial acuity, and contrast sensitivity, were maintained at control levels when Cx36 was ablated. Neuronal GJs may thus represent potential therapeutic targets to prevent the progressive neurodegeneration and visual impairment associated with glaucoma.
Abram Akopian, Sandeep Kumar, Hariharasubramanian Ramakrishnan, Kaushambi Roy, Suresh Viswanathan, Stewart A. Bloomfield