The relationship of photoreceptor degeneration to retinal vascular development and loss in mutant rhodopsin transgenic and RCS rats

Mark E. Pennesi, Shimpei Nishikawa, Michael T. Matthes, Douglas Yasumura, Matthew M. LaVail

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70 Scopus citations


The early loss of photoreceptors in some retinal degenerations in mice has been shown to have a profound effect on vascular development of the retina. To better characterize this relationship, we have examined the formation of retinal blood vessels during the first month of life in 8 lines of transgenic rats with different ages of onset and rates of photoreceptor cell loss mediated by the expression of mutant rhodopsin (P23H and S334ter). The number of capillary profiles in the superficial plexus (SP) and deep capillary plexus (DCP) of the retina were quantified in retinal sections taken at postnatal day (P) 8, 10, 12, 15 and 30. In normal wild-type rats, the SP and DCP had mostly established mature, adult patterns by P15, as previously shown. In the transgenic rats, the loss of photoreceptors had relatively little effect on the SP. By contrast, the loss of photoreceptors during vascular development had a major impact on the DCP. In the two lines with early and most rapid photoreceptor loss, S334ter-7 and S334ter-3, where about 90% and 65%, respectively, of the photoreceptors were already lost by P15, the DCP either failed to form (S334ter-7) or the number of capillary profiles was less than 7% of controls (S334ter-3). In lines where almost all photoreceptors were still present at P15 (S334ter-4, S334ter-9, P23H-2 and P23H-3), the number of profiles in the DCP were the same as in wild-type controls at P30. In two lines with an intermediate rate of degeneration (S334ter-5 and P23H-1), where only about 25% of the photoreceptors were lost by P15, there was an intermediate number of vascular profiles in the DCP at P30. Thus, a very close relationship between the number of photoreceptors and vessel profiles in the DCP during its development exists in the transgenic rats, and the loss of photoreceptors results in the failure or inhibition of the DCP to develop. Several mechanisms may explain this relationship including changes in the level of physiological oxygen tension or alteration in the release of angiogenic factors that normally drive vessel development. Analysis of older transgenic retinas up to 1 year of age revealed that (1) vascular profiles are lost from the DCP in essentially all lines once fewer than about 30-33% of photoreceptors remain; (2) in those lines where the DCP essentially did not develop (S334ter-7 and S334ter-3), the effect of photoreceptor absence was permanent, and there was no late vascularization of the DCP; (3) the number of capillary profiles in the SP remained no different from controls in any of the lines, despite long-standing loss of photoreceptors; and (4) neovascularization of the RPE by retinal capillaries occurred with a latency of 60-180 days after the loss of photoreceptors, except in S334ter-7 rats, where neovascularization essentially did not occur. Analysis of RCS rats was carried out for comparison.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)561-570
Number of pages10
JournalExperimental Eye Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 10 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • RCS
  • blood vessel development
  • rat
  • retinal degeneration
  • rhodopsin mutations
  • transgenic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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