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
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
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
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
Photopharmacological control of neuronal activity using synthetic photochromic ligands, or photoswitches, is a promising approach for restoring visual function in patients suffering from degenerative retinal diseases. Azobenzene photoswitches, such as AAQ and DENAQ, have been shown to restore the responses of retinal ganglion cells to light in mouse models of retinal degeneration but do not recapitulate native retinal signal processing. Here, we describe diethylamino-azo-diethylamino (DAD), a third-generation photoswitch that is capable of restoring retinal ganglion cell light responses to blue or white light. In acute brain slices of murine layer 2/3 cortical neurons, we determined that the photoswitch quickly relaxes to its inactive form in the dark. DAD is not permanently charged, and the uncharged form enables the photoswitch to rapidly and effectively cross biological barriers and thereby access and photosensitize retinal neurons. Intravitreal injection of DAD restored retinal light responses and light-driven behavior to blind mice. Unlike DENAQ, DAD acts upstream of retinal ganglion cells, primarily conferring light sensitivity to bipolar cells. Moreover, DAD was capable of generating ON and OFF visual responses in the blind retina by utilizing intrinsic retinal circuitry, which may be advantageous for restoring visual function.
Laura Laprell, Ivan Tochitsky, Kuldeep Kaur, Michael B. Manookin, Marco Stein, David M. Barber, Christian Schön, Stylianos Michalakis, Martin Biel, Richard H. Kramer, Martin P. Sumser, Dirk Trauner, Russell N. Van Gelder
Duane retraction syndrome (DRS) is the most common form of congenital paralytic strabismus in humans and can result from α2-chimaerin (
Alicia A. Nugent, Jong G. Park, Yan Wei, Alan P. Tenney, Nicole M. Gilette, Michelle M. DeLisle, Wai-Man Chan, Long Cheng, Elizabeth C. Engle
Outer retinal and renal glomerular functions rely on specialized vasculature maintained by VEGF that is produced by neighboring epithelial cells, the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and podocytes, respectively. Dysregulation of RPE- and podocyte-derived VEGF is associated with neovascularization in wet age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), choriocapillaris degeneration, and glomerular thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA). Since complement activation and genetic variants in inhibitory complement factor H (CFH) are also features of both ARMD and TMA, we hypothesized that VEGF and CFH interact. Here, we demonstrated that VEGF inhibition decreases local CFH and other complement regulators in the eye and kidney through reduced VEGFR2/PKC-α/CREB signaling. Patient podocytes and RPE cells carrying disease-associated CFH genetic variants had more alternative complement pathway deposits than controls. These deposits were increased by VEGF antagonism, a common wet ARMD treatment, suggesting that VEGF inhibition could reduce cellular complement regulatory capacity. VEGF antagonism also increased markers of endothelial cell activation, which was partially reduced by genetic complement inhibition. Together, these results suggest that VEGF protects the retinal and glomerular microvasculature, not only through VEGFR2-mediated vasculotrophism, but also through modulation of local complement proteins that could protect against complement-mediated damage. Though further study is warranted, these findings could be relevant for patients receiving VEGF antagonists.
Lindsay S. Keir, Rachel Firth, Lyndsey Aponik, Daniel Feitelberg, Susumu Sakimoto, Edith Aguilar, Gavin I. Welsh, Anna Richards, Yoshihiko Usui, Simon C. Satchell, Valeryia Kuzmuk, Richard J. Coward, Jonathan Goult, Katherine R. Bull, Ruchi Sharma, Kapil Bharti, Peter D. Westenskow, Iacovos P. Michael, Moin A. Saleem, Martin Friedlander