Purpose: To evaluate changes in the rods and amacrine cells and horizontal cells in human retinas with retinitis pigmentosa.
Methods: Seven retinas from patient donors with retinitis pigmentosa and 14 age- and postmortem-matched normal human retinas were processed for immunocytochemistry and confocal microscopy. The following cell-specific antibodies were used: anti-rhodopsin (rods), anti-gamma-aminobutyric acid (amacrine cells), anticalbindin (cones and horizontal cells), anti-glial fibrillary acidic protein (astrocytes and reactive Müller cells), and anti-synaptophysin and anti-SV2 (synaptic vesicles).
Results: In retinal regions with significant photoreceptor loss, the rods, gamma-aminobutyric acid-positive amacrine cells, and calbindin-positive horizontal cells had undergone neurite sprouting. The rod, amacrine and horizontal cell neurites were associated with the surfaces of glial fibrillary acidic protein-immunoreactive Müller cells. Most rod neurites that projected into the inner retina contacted the somata of gamma-aminobutyric acid-positive amacrine cells.
Conclusions: Rods, amacrine and horizontal cells undergo neurite sprouting in human retinas with retinitis pigmentosa. These changes in the retinal neurons may contribute to the electroretinographic abnormalities and progressive decline in vision noted by patients with retinitis pigmentosa. These alterations may also complicate strategies for treatment of retinitis pigmentosa.