Vitamin A metabolism in the retinal pigment epithelium: genes, mutations, and diseases

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2003 Sep;22(5):683-703. doi: 10.1016/s1350-9462(03)00051-x.


Mutations in the genes necessary for the metabolism of vitamin A (all-trans retinol) and cycling of retinoids between the photoreceptors and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) (the visual cycle) have recently emerged as an important class of genetic defects responsible for retinal dystrophies and dysfunctions. Research into the causes and treatment of diseases resulting from defects in retinal vitamin A metabolism is currently the subject of intense interest, since disorders affecting the RPE are, in principle, more accessible to therapeutic intervention than those affecting the proteins of photoreceptor cells. This chapter presents an overview of the visual cycle, as well as the function of the RPE genes involved in the conversion of vitamin A to 11-cis retinal, the chromophore of the visual pigments. The identification of disease-causing mutations in this group of genes is described as well as the associated phenotypes that range from stationary night blindness to childhood-onset severe visual handicap. Consideration is also given to alternative genetic paradigms potentially relevant to defects in vitamin A metabolism, including a discussion of the relationship of this pathway to age-related macular degeneration, a non-Mendelian disease of late onset. Finally, progress and prospects for targeted therapeutic intervention in vitamin A metabolism are presented, including retinoid and gene replacement therapy. On the basis of early successes in animal models, and plans underway for Phase I/II clinical trials, it is hoped that the near future will bring effective therapies for many retinal dystrophy patients with defects in vitamin A metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mutation*
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / metabolism*
  • Retinal Diseases / genetics*
  • Retinal Diseases / metabolism*
  • Vision, Ocular
  • Vitamin A / metabolism*


  • Vitamin A