Our previous study on retinal light exposure suggests the involvement of zinc (Zn(2+)) toxicity in the death of RPE and photoreceptors (LD) which could be attenuated by pyruvate and nicotinamide, perhaps through restoration of NAD(+) levels. In the present study, we examined Zn(2+) toxicity, and the effects of NAD(+) restoration in primary retinal cultures. We then reduced Zn(2+) levels in rodents by reducing Zn(2+) levels in the diet, or by genetics and measured LD. Sprague Dawley albino rats were fed 2, or 61 mg Zn(2+)/kg of diet for 3 weeks, and exposed to 18 kLux of white light for 4 h. We light exposed (70 kLux of white light for 50 h) Zn(2+) transporter 3 knockout (ZnT3-KO, no synaptic Zn(2+)), or RPE65 knockout mice (RPE65-KO, lack rhodopsin cycling), or C57/BI6/J controls and determined light damage and Zn(2+) staining. Retinal Zn(2+) staining was examined at 1 h and 4 h after light exposure. Retinas were examined after 7 d by optical coherence tomography and histology. After LD, rats fed the reduced Zn(2+) diet showed less photoreceptor Zn(2+) staining and degeneration compared to a normal Zn(2+) diet. Similarly, ZnT3-KO and RPE65-KO mice showed less Zn(2+) staining, NAD(+) loss, and RPE or photoreceptor death than C57/BI6/J control mice. Dietary or ZnT3-dependent Zn(2+) stores, and intracellular Zn(2+) release from rhodopsin recycling are suggested to be involved in light-induced retinal degeneration. These results implicate novel rhodopsin-mediated mechanisms and therapeutic targets for LD. Our companion manuscript demonstrates that pharmacologic, circadian, or genetic manipulations which maintain NAD(+) levels reduce LD.
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