Abstract

Ciliary defects can result in severe disorders called ciliopathies. Mutations in NPHP5 cause a ciliopathy characterized by severe childhood onset retinal blindness, Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), and renal disease. Using the canine NPHP5-LCA model we compared human and canine retinal phenotypes, and examined the early stages of photoreceptor development and degeneration, the kinetics of photoreceptor loss, the progression of degeneration and the expression profiles of selected genes. NPHP5-mutant dogs recapitulate the human phenotype of very early loss of rods, and relative retention of the central retinal cone photoreceptors that lack function. In mutant dogs, rod and cone photoreceptors have a sensory cilium, but develop and function abnormally and then rapidly degenerate; L/M cones are more severely affected than S-cones. The lack of outer segments in mutant cones indicates a ciliary dysfunction. Genes expressed in mutant rod or both rod and cone photoreceptors show significant downregulation, while those expressed only in cones are unchanged. Many genes in cell-death and -survival pathways also are downregulated. The canine disease is a non-syndromic LCA-ciliopathy, with normal renal structures and no CNS abnormalities. Our results identify the critical time points in the pathogenesis of the photoreceptor disease, and bring us closer to defining a potential time window for testing novel therapies for translation to patients.

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