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Exp Eye Res. 2009 Mar;88(3):589-99. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2008.11.022. Epub 2008 Dec 6.

Remodeling of cone photoreceptor cells after rod degeneration in rd mice.

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Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA 02114, USA.


We studied the survival of cone photoreceptors following the degeneration of rods in the rd mouse. Cones were visualized by selective expression of green fluorescent protein (GFP) following transduction with an adeno-associated virus (AAV) vector. As previously reported, many cones survive after the initial degeneration of the rods. Soon after the initial degeneration, they lose their outer segments and all but a vestigial inner segment; and they partially retract or lose their axon and synaptic pedicle. However, they retain many fundamental features of the cone phenotype, and for many weeks show a polarized morphology indicative of substantial regrowth of processes. The cells retain their laminar position, forming a cell row just distal to a much thinned outer plexiform layer. The somata subsequently enlarge. Most of the cells extend bipolar processes, recreating the original bipolar morphology of a photoreceptor cell--though now turned on its side relative to the native position. The cells express short- or middle-wavelength opsins, recoverin and connexin36. One or more of the polarized processes could often be shown to contain synaptic ribbons, as visualized by antibodies against RIBEYE. The cones do not express protein kinase C alpha, Go alpha, ChX10 or calbindin, markers of bipolar or horizontal cells. The partially differentiated cone morphology persists for at least several months, after which the processes begin to retract and there is slow loss of the cells. Thus, during the time following the loss of their rod-dominated microenvironment, the cones achieve a semi-stable state in which much of their normal phenotype is preserved. Cone photoreceptors in retinas of human RP donors appear from their morphology to undergo a similar progression. The therapeutic window for rescue of cone photoreceptors may be longer than would have been thought.

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