Although transgenic expression of oncogenes typically leads to tumorigenesis, oncogene expression directed to the rod photoreceptors leads to cell death without tumor formation. To evaluate the cellular and functional changes induced in cone photoreceptors by an oncogene, the Mas1 protooncogene was targeted to the cones of transgenic mice by the human red/green opsin promoter. Mas1 was chosen because of its exclusive expression in the nervous system and its homology to opsin. The overall histologic appearance of the transgenic retina was normal and retinal tumors were never observed. While rod-mediated electroretinograms were normal in all respects, cone-mediated responses were diminished in direct relationship to the level of transgene expression as determined by Northern blot analysis. Responses of UV- and green-sensitive cones were reduced equivalently, and Northern analysis and immunocytochemistry indicated that cone photoreceptor densities were markedly diminished throughout transgenic retinas. These results indicate that oncogene expression in cones induces cell death without tumor formation and support the possibility that aberrant oncogene expression may underlie some forms of hereditary retinal diseases. The Mas1 transgenic mice may be useful in understanding the cone photoreceptor degeneration that occurs in cone dystrophies and age-related macular degeneration and in evaluating potential therapies for these disorders.
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.