NPHP1 gene-associated nephronophthisis is associated with an occult retinopathy

Kidney Int. 2021 Nov;100(5):1092-1100. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2021.06.012. Epub 2021 Jun 19.


Biallelic deletions in the NPHP1 gene are the most frequent molecular defect of nephronophthisis, a kidney ciliopathy and leading cause of hereditary end-stage kidney disease. Nephrocystin 1, the gene product of NPHP1, is also expressed in photoreceptors where it plays an important role in intra-flagellar transport between the inner and outer segments. However, the human retinal phenotype has never been investigated in detail. Here, we characterized retinal features of 16 patients with homozygous deletions of the entire NPHP1 gene. Retinal assessment included multimodal imaging (optical coherence tomography, fundus autofluorescence) and visual function testing (visual acuity, full-field electroretinography, color vision, visual field). Fifteen patients had a mild retinal phenotype that predominantly affected cones, but with relative sparing of the fovea. Despite a predominant cone dysfunction, night vision problems were an early symptom in some cases. The consistent retinal phenotype on optical coherence tomography images included reduced reflectivity and often a granular appearance of the ellipsoid zone, fading or loss of the interdigitation zone, and mild outer retinal thinning. However, there were usually no obvious structural changes visible upon clinical examination and fundus autofluorescence imaging (occult retinopathy). More advanced retinal degeneration might occur with ageing. An identified additional CEP290 variant in one patient with a more severe retinal degeneration may indicate a potential role for genetic modifiers, although this requires further investigation. Thus, diagnostic awareness about this distinct retinal phenotype has implications for the differential diagnosis of nephronophthisis and for individual prognosis of visual function.

Keywords: NPHP1; ciliopathy; genetic modifier; nephronophthisis; phenotyping; retinal imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics*
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics*
  • Electroretinography
  • Fluorescein Angiography
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases, Cystic / genetics*
  • Retinal Diseases* / genetics
  • Tomography, Optical Coherence
  • Visual Fields


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • NPHP1 protein, human