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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2009 Sep;50(9):4386-93. doi: 10.1167/iovs.09-3471. Epub 2009 Mar 25.

Retinal pigment epithelium defects in humans and mice with mutations in MYO7A: imaging melanosome-specific autofluorescence.

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  • 1Departments of Pharmacology, UCSD School of Medicine, La Jolla, California, USA.



Usher syndrome (USH) is a genetically heterogeneous disease with autosomal recessive deafness and blindness. Gene therapy is under development for use in the most common genetic variant of USH1, USH1B, which is caused by mutations in the MYO7A gene. This study was undertaken to identify an imaging method for noninvasively monitoring the RPE component of the USH1B disease.


NIR-autofluorescence (NIR-AF) was examined in USH1B patients with scanning laser ophthalmoscopy, and retinal thickness with spectral-domain optical coherence tomography. Myo7a-null mouse retinas and purified RPE melanosomes were analyzed by spectral deconvolution confocal microscopy.


In USH1B patients, NIR-AF was normal in regions of retained photoreceptors and abnormal in regions lacking photoreceptors. Subtle changes in NIR-AF were associated with intermediate photoreceptor loss. In ex vivo mouse retinas, the NIR-AF source was traced to the melanosomes in the RPE and choroid. Purified RPE melanosomes emitted the same signal. Fluorophores, excited by long-wavelength light, were evident throughout the apical RPE of WT mouse eyecups. In Myo7a-null eyecups, these fluorophores had a more restricted distribution. They were absent from the apical processes of the RPE, thus correlating with the melanosome localization defects described previously by conventional microscopy.


The data indicate that melanosomes in the RPE and choroid are the dominant source of NIR-AF from the posterior region of the eye. NIR-AF is a novel tool that provides sensitive and label-free imaging of the retina and RPE and is currently the only melanosome-specific, noninvasive technique for monitoring RPE disease in new therapeutic initiatives for retinal degenerations.

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