Retinitis pigmentosa: defined from a molecular point of view

Surv Ophthalmol. Jan-Feb 1999;43(4):321-34. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6257(98)00046-0.


Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) denotes a group of hereditary retinal dystrophies, characterized by the early onset of night blindness followed by a progressive loss of the visual field. The primary defect underlying RP affects the function of the rod photoreceptor cell, and, subsequently, mostly unknown molecular and cellular mechanisms trigger the apoptotic degeneration of these photoreceptor cells. Retinitis pigmentosa is very heterogeneous, both phenotypically and genetically. In this review we propose a tentative classification of RP based on the functional systems affected by the mutated proteins. This classification connects the variety of phenotypes to the mutations and segregation patterns observed in RP. Current progress in the identification of the molecular defects underlying RP reveals that at least three distinct functional mechanisms may be affected: 1) the daily renewal and shedding of the photoreceptor outer segments, 2) the visual transduction cascade, and 3) the retinol (vitamin A) metabolism. The first group includes the rhodopsin and peripherin/RDS genes, and mutations in these genes often result in a dominant phenotype. The second group is predominantly associated with a recessive phenotype that results, as we argue, from continuous inactivation of the transduction pathway. Disturbances in the retinal metabolism seem to be associated with equal rod and cone involvement and the presence of deposits in the retinal pigment epithelium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Eye Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa / genetics*
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa / metabolism
  • Retinitis Pigmentosa / physiopathology
  • Rod Cell Outer Segment / metabolism
  • Rod Cell Outer Segment / physiopathology
  • Vision, Ocular / genetics
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology
  • Vitamin A / genetics
  • Vitamin A / metabolism


  • Eye Proteins
  • Vitamin A