Purpose: Autosomal dominant Stargardt-like (STGD3) disease results from mutations in the ELOVL4 gene (elongation of very-long-chain fatty acids). This study was undertaken to characterize a mouse model with a targeted deletion of Elovl4 and to explore the role of this gene in retinal/macular degeneration.
Methods: A construct targeted to exon 2 of the Elovl4 gene was used to suppress expression of the gene. Elovl4 homozygous pups were nonviable and were not available for study. Hence, the analysis was performed on heterozygous Elovl4(+/-) mice 16 to 22 month of age and littermate wild-type (WT) control mice of the same age. Characterization included examining gene message and protein levels, electroretinogram (ERG), retinal morphology and ultrastructure, and plasma and retinal fatty acid composition.
Results: Although the level of Elovl4 mRNA was reduced in Elovl4(+/-) retinas, only minimal morphologic abnormalities were found, and the retinal (ERG) function was essentially normal in Elovl4(+/-) retinas compared with the WT control retinas. Systemic fatty acid profiles of Elovl4(+/-) mice were unremarkable, although the concentration of several fatty acids was significantly lower in Elovl4(+/-) retinas, particularly the monounsaturated fatty acids.
Conclusions: The detailed characterization of this animal model provides the first in vivo evidence that Elovl4 haploinsufficiency is not the underlying key disease mechanism in STGD3. The results are consistent with a dominant negative mechanism for the deletion mutation. The Elovl4 knockout mouse is one of three complementary animal models that will help elucidate the disease mechanism.