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Exp Eye Res. 2007 Mar;84(3):473-85. Epub 2006 Dec 18.

Targeted inactivation of synaptic HRG4 (UNC119) causes dysfunction in the distal photoreceptor and slow retinal degeneration, revealing a new function.

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  • 1Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 1638 N.W., 10th Avenue, Miami, FL 33136, USA.


HRG4 (UNC119) is a photoreceptor protein predominantly localized to the photoreceptor synapses and to the inner segments to a lesser degree. A heterozygous truncation mutation in HRG4 was found in a patient with late onset cone-rod dystrophy, and a transgenic (TG) mouse expressing the identical mutant protein developed late onset retinal degeneration, confirming the pathogenic potential of HRG4. Recently, the dominant negative pathogenic mechanism in the TG model was shown to involve increased affinity of the truncated mutant HRG4 for its target, ARL2, which leads to a delayed decrease in its downstream target, mitochondrial ANT1, mitochondrial stress, synaptic degeneration, trans-synaptic degeneration, and whole photoreceptor degeneration by apoptosis. In this study, the mouse HRG4 (MRG4) gene was cloned and targeted to construct a knock-out (KO) mouse model of HRG4 in order to study the effects of completely inactivating this protein. The KO model was examined by genomic Southern blotting, Western blotting, immunofluorescence, funduscopy, LM and EM histopathology, ERG, and TUNEL analyses. The KO model developed a slowly progressive retinal degeneration, characterized by mottling in the fundus, mild thinning of the photoreceptor layer, and increase in apoptosis as early as 6 months, dramatic acceleration at approximately 17 months, and virtual obliteration of the photoreceptors by 20 months. When compared to retinal degeneration in the TG model, significant differences existed in the KO consisting of more severe and early photoreceptor death without evidence of early synaptic and trans-synaptic degeneration as seen in the TG, confirmed by LM and EM histopathology, ERG, and Western blotting of synaptic proteins. The results indicated a dysfunction in the KO outside the synapses in the distal end of photoreceptors where MRG4 is also localized. Differences in the phenotypes of retinal degeneration in the KO and TG models reflect a dysfunction in the two opposite ends of photoreceptors, i.e., the distal inner/outer segments and proximal synapses, respectively, indicating a second function of MRG4 in the distal photoreceptor and dual functionality of MRG4. Thus, inactivation of MRG4 by gene targeting resulted in a retinal degeneration phenotype quite different from that previously seen in the TG, attesting to the multiplicity of MRG4 function, in addition to the importance of this protein for normal retinal function. These models will be useful in elucidating the functions of HRG4/MRG4 and the mechanism of slow retinal degeneration.

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