Rats with oxygen-induced retinopathy (OIR) model the pediatric retinal disease retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). Recent findings in OIR rats imply a causal role for the rods in the ROP disease process, although only experimental manipulation of rod function can establish this role conclusively. Accordingly, a visual cycle modulator (VCM) - with no known direct effect on retinal vasculature - was administered to "50/10 model" OIR Sprague-Dawley rats to test the hypotheses that it would 1) alter rod function and 2) consequently alter vascular outcome. Four litters of pups (N=46) were studied. For two weeks, beginning on postnatal day (P) 7, the first and fourth litters were administered 6 mg kg(-1) N-retinylacetamide (the VCM) intraperitoneally; the second and third litters received vehicle (DMSO) alone. Following a longitudinal design, retinal function was assessed by electroretinography (ERG) and the status of the retinal vessels was monitored using computerized fundus photograph analysis. Rod photoreceptor and post-receptor response amplitudes were significantly higher in VCM-treated than in vehicle-treated rats; deactivation of phototransduction was also significantly more rapid. Notably, the arterioles of VCM-treated rats showed significantly greater recovery from OIR. Presuming that the VCM did not directly affect the retinal vessels, a causal role for the neural retina - particularly the rod photoreceptors - in OIR was confirmed. There was no evidence of negative alteration of photoreceptor function consequent to VCM treatment. This finding implicates the rods as a possible therapeutic target in neurovascular diseases such as ROP.
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