Gene therapy rescues cone structure and function in the 3-month-old rd12 mouse: a model for midcourse RPE65 leber congenital amaurosis.

X Li
W Li
X Dai
F Kong
Q Zheng
X Zhou
F Lu
B Chang
B Rohrer
W W. Hauswirth
J Qu
J J. Pang


PURPOSE: RPE65 function is necessary in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) to generate chromophore for all opsins. Its absence results in vision loss and rapid cone degeneration. Recent Leber congenital amaurosis type 2 (LCA with RPE65 mutations) phase I clinical trials demonstrated restoration of vision on RPE65 gene transfer into RPE cells overlying cones. In the rd12 mouse, a naturally occurring model of RPE65-LCA early cone degeneration was observed; however, some peripheral M-cones remained. A prior study showed that AAV-mediated RPE65 expression can prevent early cone degeneration. The present study was conducted to test whether the remaining cones in older rd12 mice can be rescued. METHODS: Subretinal treatment with the scAAV5-smCBA-hRPE65 vector was initiated at postnatal day (P)14 and P90. After 2 months, electroretinograms were recorded, and cone morphology was analyzed by using cone-specific peanut agglutinin and cone opsin-specific antibodies. RESULTS: Cone degeneration started centrally and spread ventrally, with cells losing cone-opsin staining before that for the PNA-lectin-positive cone sheath. Gene therapy starting at P14 resulted in almost wild-type M- and S-cone function and morphology. Delaying gene-replacement rescued the remaining M-cones, and most important, more M-cone opsin-positive cells were identified than were present at the onset of gene therapy, suggesting that opsin expression could be reinitiated in cells with cone sheaths. CONCLUSIONS: The results support and extend those of the previous study that gene therapy can stop early cone degeneration, and, more important, they provide proof that delayed treatment can restore the function and morphology of the remaining cones. These results have important implications for the ongoing LCA2 clinical trials.