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Nat Neurosci. 2009 Jan;12(1):44-52. doi: 10.1038/nn.2234. Epub 2008 Dec 7.

Stimulation of the insulin/mTOR pathway delays cone death in a mouse model of retinitis pigmentosa.

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Harvard Medical School, Department of Genetics and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, 77 Avenue Louis Pasteur, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.


Retinitis pigmentosa is an incurable retinal disease that leads to blindness. One puzzling aspect concerns the progression of the disease. Although most mutations that cause retinitis pigmentosa are in rod photoreceptor-specific genes, cone photoreceptors also die as a result of such mutations. To understand the mechanism of non-autonomous cone death, we analyzed four mouse models harboring mutations in rod-specific genes. We found changes in the insulin/mammalian target of rapamycin pathway that coincided with the activation of autophagy during the period of cone death. We increased or decreased the insulin level and measured the survival of cones in one of the models. Mice that were treated systemically with insulin had prolonged cone survival, whereas depletion of endogenous insulin had the opposite effect. These data suggest that the non-autonomous cone death in retinitis pigmentosa could, at least in part, be a result of the starvation of cones.

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