Patient derived stem cells for discovery and validation of novel pathogenic variants in inherited retinal disease

Prog Retin Eye Res. 2021 Jul;83:100918. doi: 10.1016/j.preteyeres.2020.100918. Epub 2020 Oct 29.


Our understanding of inherited retinal disease has benefited immensely from molecular genetic analysis over the past several decades. New technologies that allow for increasingly detailed examination of a patient's DNA have expanded the catalog of genes and specific variants that cause retinal disease. In turn, the identification of pathogenic variants has allowed the development of gene therapies and low-cost, clinically focused genetic testing. Despite this progress, a relatively large fraction (at least 20%) of patients with clinical features suggestive of an inherited retinal disease still do not have a molecular diagnosis today. Variants that are not obviously disruptive to the codon sequence of exons can be difficult to distinguish from the background of benign human genetic variations. Some of these variants exert their pathogenic effect not by altering the primary amino acid sequence, but by modulating gene expression, isoform splicing, or other transcript-level mechanisms. While not discoverable by DNA sequencing methods alone, these variants are excellent targets for studies of the retinal transcriptome. In this review, we present an overview of the current state of pathogenic variant discovery in retinal disease and identify some of the remaining barriers. We also explore the utility of new technologies, specifically patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-based modeling, in further expanding the catalog of disease-causing variants using transcriptome-focused methods. Finally, we outline bioinformatic analysis techniques that will allow this new method of variant discovery in retinal disease. As the knowledge gleaned from previous technologies is informing targets for therapies today, we believe that integrating new technologies, such as iPSC-based modeling, into the molecular diagnosis pipeline will enable a new wave of variant discovery and expanded treatment of inherited retinal disease.

Keywords: Induced pluripotent stem cell; Inherited retinal disease; Rare Mendelian disease; Retinal organoid; Transcriptome; Variant discovery.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • DNA
  • Exons
  • Humans
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells*
  • Retina
  • Retinal Diseases* / genetics


  • DNA