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A new immunodeficient retinal dystrophic rat model for transplantation studies using human-derived cells



To create new immunodeficient Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) rats by introducing the defective MerTK gene into athymic nude rats.


Female homozygous RCS (RCS-p+/RCS-p+) and male nude rats (Hsd:RH-Foxn1mu, mutation in the foxn1 gene; no T cells) were crossed to produce heterozygous F1 progeny. Double homozygous F2 progeny obtained by crossing the F1 heterozygotes was identified phenotypically (hair loss) and genotypically (RCS-p+ gene determined by PCR). Retinal degenerative status was confirmed by optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging, electroretinography (ERG), optokinetic (OKN) testing, superior colliculus (SC) electrophysiology, and by histology. The effect of xenografts was assessed by transplantation of human embryonic stem cell-derived retinal pigment epithelium (hESC-RPE) and human-induced pluripotent stem cell-derived RPE (iPS-RPE) into the eye. Morphological analysis was conducted based on hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) and immunostaining. Age-matched pigmented athymic nude rats were used as control.


Approximately 6% of the F2 pups (11/172) were homozygous for RCS-p+ gene and Foxn1mu gene. Homozygous males crossed with heterozygous females resulted in 50% homozygous progeny for experimentation. OCT imaging demonstrated significant loss of retinal thickness in homozygous rats. H&E staining showed photoreceptor thickness reduced to 1-3 layers at 12 weeks of age. Progressive loss of visual function was evidenced by OKN testing, ERG, and SC electrophysiology. Transplantation experiments demonstrated survival of human-derived cells and absence of apparent immune rejection.


This new rat animal model developed by crossing RCS rats and athymic nude rats is suitable for conducting retinal transplantation experiments involving xenografts.

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