The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) is assembled into signaling complexes of mTORC1 or mTORC2, and plays key roles in cell metabolism, stress response, and nutrient and growth factor sensing. Accumulating evidence from human and animal model studies has demonstrated a pathogenic role of hyperactive mTORC1 in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a primary injury site in AMD. In mouse models of RPE-specific deletion of Tuberous sclerosis 1 (Tsc1), which encodes an upstream suppressor of mTORC1, the hyperactivated mTORC1 metabolically reprogrammed the RPE and led to the degeneration of the outer retina and choroid (CH). In the current study, we use single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to identify an RPE mTORC1 downstream protein, dopamine- and cyclic AMP-regulated phosphoprotein of molecular weight 32,000 (DARPP-32). DARPP-32 was not found in healthy RPE but localized to drusen and basal linear deposits in human AMD eyes. In animal models, overexpressing DARPP-32 by adeno-associated virus (AAV) led to abnormal RPE structure and function. The data indicate that DARPP-32 is a previously unidentified signaling protein subjected to mTORC1 regulation and may contribute to RPE degeneration in AMD.
Keywords: RPE; age-related macular degeneration; drusen; mTORC1.