Irish setter dogs affected with rod-cone dysplasia 1 have elevated levels of retinal cGMP resulting from deficient rod-specific cGMP phosphodiesterase (cGMP PDE) activity. We investigated the mRNAs coding for the three subunits of cGMP PDE and for the proteins involved in the activation/deactivation of this enzyme in the retinas of developing affected and control dogs. While the photoreceptor cells are viable in the diseased retinas, opsin, transducin alpha 1 and beta 1, 48 and 33 kd proteins, and cGMP PDE alpha and gamma mRNAs have normal transcript sizes and levels. In contrast, a different pattern of cGMP PDE beta mRNAs with lower than normal concentrations is present in the developing affected retinas prior to degeneration. Our observations suggest that an abnormality involving cGMP PDE beta expression is implicated in rod-cone dysplasia 1.