Purpose: Blue cone monochromacy (BCM) is an X-linked congenital vision disorder characterized by complete loss or severely reduced L- and M-cone function. Patients with BCM display poor visual acuity, severely impaired color discrimination, myopia, nystagmus, and minimally detectable cone-mediated electroretinogram. Recent studies of patients with BCM with adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO) showed that they have a disrupted cone mosaic with reduced numbers of cones in the fovea that is normally dominated by L- and M-cones. The remaining cones in the fovea have significantly shortened outer segments but retain sufficient structural integrity to serve as potential gene therapy targets. In this study, we tested whether exogenously expressed human L- and M-opsins can rescue M-cone function in an M-opsin knockout (Opn1mw-/- ) mouse model for BCM.
Methods: Adeno-associated virus type 5 (AAV5) vectors expressing OPN1LW, OPN1MW, or C-terminal tagged OPN1LW-Myc, or OPN1MW-HA driven by a cone-specific promoter were injected subretinally into one eye of Opn1mw-/- mice, while the contralateral eye served as the uninjected control. Expression of cone pigments was determined with western blotting and their cellular localization identified with immunohistochemistry. M-cone function was analyzed with electroretinogram (ERG). Antibodies against cone phototransduction proteins were used to study cone outer segment (OS) morphology in untreated and treated Opn1mw-/- eyes.
Results: We showed that cones in the dorsal retina of the Opn1mw-/- mouse do not form outer segments, resembling cones that lack outer segments in the human BCM fovea. We further showed that AAV5-mediated expression of either human M- or L-opsin individually or combined promotes regrowth of cone outer segments and rescues M-cone function in the treated Opn1mw-/- dorsal retina.
Conclusions: Exogenously expressed human opsins can regenerate cone outer segments and rescue M-cone function in Opn1mw-/- mice, thus providing a proof-of-concept gene therapy in an animal model of BCM.