Retinal degeneration is an early consequence of the group of lysosomal storage diseases collectively referred to as the neuronal ceroid lipofuscinoses (NCLs). This review details specialized techniques that have evolved for retinal assessment in patients with hereditary retinal degeneration. A standard ERG protocol is described for assessing rod- and cone-mediated function. Standardization will be crucial for planning and implementing multicenter trials as rational therapeutic intervention becomes available. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in knowledge of the molecular biological bases of retinitis pigmentosa and allied retinal degenerations. Rather than attempting a comprehensive summary, this review stresses the concepts of genetic, allelic, and clinical heterogeneity, which have obvious parallels in the NCLs. Many of the mutations that cause retinal degeneration are in genes that encode photoreceptor cascade proteins; others are in genes that encode photoreceptor structural proteins. Recent advances in linking the retinal degeneration slow (RDS) and ATP-binding cassette transporter retina (ABCR) genes to a variety of disease phenotypes will be summarized. Clinical heterogeneity even among family members with the same mutation raises the possibility that modifying factors, either genetic or environmental, could influence the severity of the disease. Here, we focus on vitamin A and docosahexaenoic acid, two potential nutritional modifiers that have received considerable attention in recent years.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.