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Complement modulation in the retinal pigment epithelium rescues photoreceptor degeneration in a mouse model of Stargardt disease.

  • Author(s): Lenis, Tamara L;
  • Sarfare, Shanta;
  • Jiang, Zhichun;
  • Lloyd, Marcia B;
  • Bok, Dean;
  • Radu, Roxana A
  • et al.

Recessive Stargardt macular degeneration (STGD1) is caused by mutations in the gene for the ABCA4 transporter in photoreceptor outer segments. STGD1 patients and Abca4-/- (STGD1) mice exhibit buildup of bisretinoid-containing lipofuscin pigments in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), increased oxidative stress, augmented complement activation and slow degeneration of photoreceptors. A reduction in complement negative regulatory proteins (CRPs), possibly owing to bisretinoid accumulation, may be responsible for the increased complement activation seen on the RPE of STGD1 mice. CRPs prevent attack on host cells by the complement system, and complement receptor 1-like protein y (CRRY) is an important CRP in mice. Here we attempted to rescue the phenotype in STGD1 mice by increasing expression of CRRY in the RPE using a gene therapy approach. We injected recombinant adeno-associated virus containing the CRRY coding sequence (AAV-CRRY) into the subretinal space of 4-wk-old Abca4-/- mice. This resulted in sustained, several-fold increased expression of CRRY in the RPE, which significantly reduced the complement factors C3/C3b in the RPE. Unexpectedly, AAV-CRRY-treated STGD1 mice also showed reduced accumulation of bisretinoids compared with sham-injected STGD1 control mice. Furthermore, we observed slower photoreceptor degeneration and increased visual chromophore in 1-y-old AAV-CRRY-treated STGD1 mice. Rescue of the STGD1 phenotype by AAV-CRRY gene therapy suggests that complement attack on the RPE is an important etiologic factor in STGD1. Modulation of the complement system by locally increasing CRP expression using targeted gene therapy represents a potential treatment strategy for STGD1 and other retinopathies associated with complement dysregulation.

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