Purpose: To compare the clinical findings of the various forms of stationary night blindness caused by mutations in identified genes encoding proteins of photoreceptors or the retinal pigment epithelium.
Methods: Review of the visual acuities, visual fields, fundi, dark-adaptation curves, and electroretinograms from patients with stationary night blindness caused by mutations in the genes RHO, GNAT1, PDE6B, RHOK, SAG, RDH5, and CACNA1F, respectively encoding rhodopsin, the alpha subunit of rod transducin, the beta subunit of rod cGMP-phosphodiesterase, rhodopsin kinase, arrestin, 11-cis retinol dehydrogenase, and a retinal L-type calcium channel.
Results: In the evaluated forms of stationary night blindness, the time course of dark adaptation and the characteristics of the electroretinogram indicate that rod photoreceptors are present and that they function, although abnormally. In night blindness resulting from defects in rhodopsin, the alpha subunit of rod transducin, or the beta subunit of rod cGMP phosphodiesterase, rod photoreceptors respond only to light intensities far brighter than normal, and the sensitivity of rods to light is similar to that of normal individuals who are not dark adapted. In fundus albipunctatus and in Oguchi disease, the rod photoreceptors can achieve normal sensitivity to dim light but only after 2 or more hours of dark adaptation, compared with approximately 0.5 hours for normal individuals. In each of these forms of stationary night blindness, the poor rod sensitivity and the time course of dark adaptation correlate with the known or presumed physiologic abnormalities caused by the identified gene defects. Patients with some forms of stationary night blindness, such as fundus albipunctatus and Oguchi disease, may develop degeneration of the retina leading to severe loss of vision in later life.
Conclusions: The identification of the mutant genes causing forms of stationary night blindness refines the classification of these diseases and enhances our understanding of the underlying physiologic defects. Ophthalmologists must be aware that although these diseases are traditionally categorized as "stationary," some of them lead to reduced visual acuity or constricted visual fields, especially in older patients. Efforts to develop therapies for these diseases should concentrate on these more severe forms.