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J Bioenerg Biomembr. 2007 Dec;39(5-6):507-17.

ATP-binding cassette transporter ABCA4: molecular properties and role in vision and macular degeneration.

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  • 1Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Centre for Macular Research, University of British Columbia, 2350 Health Sciences Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada.


ABCA4, also known as ABCR or the rim protein, is a member of the ABCA subfamily of ATP binding cassette (ABC) transporters expressed in vertebrate rod and cone photoreceptor cells and localized to outer segment disk membranes. ABCA4 is organized in two tandem halves, each consisting of a transmembrane segment followed successively by a large exocytoplasmic domain, a multispanning membrane domain, and a nucleotide-binding domain. Over 400 mutations in ABCA4 have been linked to Stargardt macular degeneration and related retinal degenerative diseases that cause severe vision loss in affected individuals. Direct binding studies and ATPase activation measurements have identified N-retinylidene-phosphatidylethanolamine, a product generated from the photobleaching of rhodopsin, as the substrate for ABCA4. Mice deficient in ABCA4 accumulate phosphatidylethanolamine, all-trans retinal, and N-retinylidene-phosphatidylethanolamine in photoreceptors and the diretinal pyridinium compound A2E in retinal pigment epithelial cells. On the basis of these studies, ABCA4 is proposed to actively transport or flip N-retinylidene-phosphatidylethanolamine from the lumen to the cytoplasmic side of disc membranes following the photobleaching of rhodopsin. This transport activity insures that retinoids do not accumulate in disc membranes. Disease-linked mutations in ABCA4 that result in diminished transport activity lead to an accumulation of all-trans retinal and N-retinylidene-PE in disc membranes which react to produce A2E precursors. A2E progressively accumulates as lipofuscin deposits in retinal pigment epithelial cells as a result of phagocytosis of outer segment discs. A2E and photo-oxidation products cause RPE cell death and consequently photoreceptor degeneration resulting in a loss in vision in individuals with Stargardt macular degeneration and other retinal degenerative diseases associated with mutations in ABCA4.

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