Background: Night blindness is an early symptom of retinitis pigmentosa. The rod photoreceptors are responsible for night vision and use rhodopsin as the photosensitive pigment.
Methods and results: We found three mutations in the human rhodopsin gene; each occurred exclusively in the affected members of some families with autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa. Two mutations were C-to-T transitions involving separate nucleotides of codon 347; the third was a C-to-G transversion in codon 58. Each mutation corresponded to a change in one amino acid residue in the rhodopsin molecule. None of these mutations were found in 106 unrelated normal subjects who served as controls. When the incidence of these three mutations was added to that of a previously reported mutation involving codon 23, 27 of 150 unrelated patients with autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (18 percent) were found to carry one of these four defects in the rhodopsin gene. All 27 patients had abnormal rod function on monitoring of their electroretinograms. It appears that patients with the mutation involving codon 23 probably descend from a single ancestor.
Conclusions: In some patients with autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa, the disease is caused by one of a variety of mutations of the rhodopsin gene.