Nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyltransferase 1 (NMNAT1) is required for nuclear nicotinamide adenine mononucleotide (NAD+) biosynthesis in all nucleated cells, and despite its functional ubiquity, mutations in this gene lead to an isolated retinal degeneration. The mechanisms underlying how mutant NMNAT1 causes disease are not well understood, nor is the reason why the pathology is confined to the retina. Using a mouse model of NMNAT1-associated retinal degeneration that harbors the p.Val9Met mutation, we tested the hypothesis that decreased function of mutant NMNAT1 has a greater effect on the levels of NAD+ in the retina than elsewhere in the body. Measurements by liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry showed an early and sustained decrease of NAD+ in mutant retinas that was not observed in other tissues. To understand how consumers of nuclear NAD+ are affected by the reduced availability of NAD+ in mutant retinas, poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) and nuclear sirtuin activity were evaluated. PARP activity was elevated during disease progression, as evidenced by overproduction of poly(ADP-ribose) (PAR) in photoreceptors, whereas histone deacetylation activity of nuclear sirtuins was not altered. We hypothesized that PARP could be activated because of elevated levels of oxidative stress; however, we did not observe oxidative DNA damage, lipid peroxidation, or a low glutathione to oxidized glutathione ratio. Terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick end labeling staining revealed that photoreceptors appear to ultimately die by apoptosis, although the low NAD+ levels and overproduction of PAR suggest that cell death may include aspects of the parthanatos cell death pathway.
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