Purpose: Despite decades of investigation, the function of interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein (IRBP), the most abundant protein in the interphotoreceptor matrix of vertebrates, remains enigmatic. Roles for IRBP in the visual cycle of rod photoreceptors and in the independent visual cycle of cone photoreceptors have been suggested, yet very little is known of the biology of IRBP in cone-dominant retinas, such as those of diurnal birds. Our aim was to identify and characterize expression of the IRBP of the cone-dominant chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus).
Methods: Chicken IRBP mRNA was identified by PCR cloning. Primary protein structure, genomic organization, and phylogenies were determined through comparative sequence analyses. Expression of IRBP mRNA was characterized by northern analysis and by in situ hybridization on cryosectioned chicken retina. Expression of the IRBP protein was characterized by western blotting and by indirect immunofluorescence on cryosectioned retina and on retinal whole mounts.
Results: The chicken IRBP gene encodes a secreted protein with a predicted 1,252 amino acid length. The gene structure for chicken IRBP resembles that of most other vertebrates, with four homologous, modular repeats and introns within only the fourth module. Each module is more homologous with the corresponding module in other species than it is with the remaining chicken modules. Chicken retinal tissue contains a single IRBP mRNA transcript of approximately 4.8 kb and western analysis of chicken retina shows a single major band of 140 kDa. Chicken IRBP mRNA is expressed exclusively by retinal photoreceptor cells and the intensity of the hybridization signal shows light/dark rhythmicity. The IRBP protein is localized to the interphotoreceptor matrix of the chicken retina and to intracellular regions of photoreceptors, with a spatial distribution indicating an association with cone outer segments.
Conclusions: The high degree of conservation of IRBP's primary structure, genomic organization, and cell-specific expression within the retinas of all vertebrates examined to date, including those with cone-dominant retinas, implies a conserved role for IRBP in photoreceptor function and/or health. Expression of chicken IRBP and its mRNA are functionally regulated. This report provides a necessary first step to explore a specific function for IRBP in the cone visual cycle.