Optogenetic strategies to restore vision in patients who are blind from end-stage retinal degenerations aim to render remaining retinal cells light sensitive once photoreceptors are lost. Here, we assessed long-term functional outcomes following subretinal delivery of the human melanopsin gene (OPN4) in the rd1 mouse model of retinal degeneration using an adeno-associated viral vector. Ectopic expression of OPN4 using a ubiquitous promoter resulted in cellular depolarization and ganglion cell action potential firing. Restoration of the pupil light reflex, behavioral light avoidance, and the ability to perform a task requiring basic image recognition were restored up to 13 mo following injection. These data suggest that melanopsin gene therapy via a subretinal route may be a viable and stable therapeutic option for the treatment of end-stage retinal degeneration in humans.
Keywords: gene therapy; human melanopsin; optogenetics.