Purpose: To evaluate the efficacy of immunologically compatible Schwann cells transplanted without immunosuppression in the RCS rat retina to preserve vision.
Methods: Syngeneic (dystrophic RCS) Schwann cells harvested from sciatic nerves were cultured and transplanted into one eye of dystrophic RCS rats at an early stage of retinal degeneration. Allogeneic (Long-Evans) Schwann cells and unoperated eyes served as controls. Vision through transplanted and unoperated eyes was then quantified using two visual behavior tasks, one measuring the spatial frequency and contrast sensitivity thresholds of the optokinetic response (OKR) and the other measuring grating acuity in a perception task.
Results: Spatial frequency thresholds measured through syngeneically transplanted eyes maintained near normal spatial frequency sensitivity for approximately 30 weeks, whereas thresholds through control eyes deteriorated to less than 20% of normal over the same period. Contrast sensitivity was preserved through syngeneically transplanted eyes better than through allogeneic and unoperated eyes, at all spatial frequencies. Grating acuity measured through syngeneically transplanted eyes was maintained at approximately 60% of normal, whereas acuity of allogeneically transplanted eyes was significantly lower at approximately 40% of normal.
Conclusions: The ability of immunoprivileged Schwann cell transplants to preserve vision in RCS rats indicates that transplantation of syngeneic Schwann cells holds promise as a preventive treatment for retinal degenerative disease.