Diseases caused by defects in the visual cycle: retinoids as potential therapeutic agents

Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 2007;47:469-512. doi: 10.1146/annurev.pharmtox.47.120505.105225.


Absorption of a photon by an opsin pigment causes isomerization of the chromophore from 11-cis-retinaldehyde to all-trans-retinaldehyde. Regeneration of visual chromophore following light exposure is dependent on an enzyme pathway called the retinoid or visual cycle. Our understanding of this pathway has been greatly facilitated by the identification of disease-causing mutations in the genes coding for visual cycle enzymes. Defects in nearly every step of this pathway are responsible for human-inherited retinal dystrophies. These retinal dystrophies can be divided into two etiologic groups. One involves the impaired synthesis of visual chromophore. The second involves accumulation of cytotoxic products derived from all-trans-retinaldehyde. Gene therapy has been successfully used in animal models of these diseases to rescue the function of enzymes involved in chromophore regeneration, restoring vision. Dystrophies resulting from impaired chromophore synthesis can also be treated by supplementation with a chromophore analog. Dystrophies resulting from the accumulation of toxic pigments can be treated pharmacologically by inhibiting the visual cycle, or limiting the supply of vitamin A to the eyes. Recent progress in both areas provides hope that multiple inherited retinal diseases will soon be treated by pharmaceutical intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Genetic Therapy
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Photoreceptor Cells / drug effects
  • Retina / physiopathology
  • Retinal Diseases / drug therapy
  • Retinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Retinoids / pharmacology
  • Retinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Vision Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology
  • Vitamin A / adverse effects
  • Vitamin A / therapeutic use*
  • Vitamins / adverse effects
  • Vitamins / therapeutic use*


  • Retinoids
  • Vitamins
  • Vitamin A