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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2015 Dec;56(13):7947-55. doi: 10.1167/iovs.15-16799.

Light Induces Ultrastructural Changes in Rod Outer and Inner Segments, Including Autophagy, in a Transgenic Xenopus laevis P23H Rhodopsin Model of Retinitis Pigmentosa.



We previously reported a transgenic Xenopus laevis model of retinitis pigmentosa in which tadpoles express the bovine form of P23H rhodopsin (bP23H) in rod photoreceptors. In this model, retinal degeneration was dependent on light exposure. Here, we investigated ultrastructural changes that occurred in the rod photoreceptors of these retinas when exposed to light.


Tadpoles expressing bP23H in rods were transferred from constant darkness to a 12-hour light:12-hour dark (12L:12D) regimen. For comparison, transgenic tadpoles expressing an inducible form of caspase 9 (iCasp9) were reared in a 12L:12D regimen, and retinal degeneration was induced by administration of the drug AP20187. Tadpoles were euthanized at various time points, and eyes were processed for confocal light and transmission electron microscopy.


We observed defects in outer and inner segments of rods expressing bP23H that were aggravated by light exposure. Rod outer segments exhibited vesiculations throughout and were rapidly phagocytosed by the retinal pigment epithelium. In rod inner segments, we observed autophagic compartments adjacent to the endoplasmic reticulum and extensive vesiculation at later time points. These defects were not found in rods expressing iCasp9, which completely degenerated within 36 hours after drug administration.


Our results indicate that ultrastructural defects in outer and inner segment membranes of bP23H expressing rods differ from those observed in drug-induced apoptosis. We suggest that light-induced retinal degeneration caused by P23H rhodopsin occurs via cell death with autophagy, which may represent an attempt to eliminate the mutant rhodopsin and/or damaged cellular compartments from the secretory pathway.

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