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Mol Vis. 2019 Aug 21;25:462-476. eCollection 2019.

Wheel running exercise protects against retinal degeneration in the I307N rhodopsin mouse model of inducible autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa.

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Department of Ophthalmology, School of Medicine, Emory University, Atlanta, GA.
Department of Ophthalmology, Second Xiangya Hospital of Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China.
The First Affiliated Hospital of Medical School of Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an, Shan'xi, China.
Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, GA.
Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation, Atlanta Veterans Administration Health Care System, Decatur, GA.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA.



We previously reported that modest running exercise protects photoreceptors in mice undergoing light-induced retinal degeneration and in the rd10 mouse model of autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa (arRP). We hypothesized that exercise would protect against other types of retinal degeneration, specifically, in autosomal dominant inherited disease. We tested whether voluntary running wheel exercise is protective in a retinal degeneration mouse model of class B1 autosomal dominant RP (adRP).


C57BL/6J mice heterozygous for the mutation in I307N rhodopsin (Rho) (also known as RHOTvrm4/+, or Tvrm4) are normal until exposed to brief but bright light, whereupon rod photoreceptor degeneration ensues. I307N Rho mice were given access to free spinning (active) or locked (inactive) running wheels. Five weeks later, half of each cohort was treated with 0.2% atropine eye drops and exposed to white LED light (6,000 lux) for 5 min, then returned to maintenance housing with wheels. At 1 week or 4 weeks after induction, retinal and visual function was assessed with electroretinogram (ERG) and optomotor response (OMR). In vivo retinal morphology was assessed with optical coherence tomography (OCT), and fundus blue autofluorescence assessed using a scanning laser ophthalmoscope. The mice were then euthanized, and the eyes fixed for paraffin sectioning or flatmounting. The paraffin sections were stained with hematoxylin and eosin (H&E) and terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) to assess retina morphology and apoptosis. Half of the flatmounts were stained for ZO-1 and α-catenin to assess RPE cell structure and stress. (We previously reported that translocation of α-catenin from cell membranes into the cytosol indicates RPE cell stress.) The remaining flatmounts were stained for ZO-1 and Iba-1 to assess the RPE cell size and shape, and inflammatory responses.


In vivo measures revealed that induction of the I307N Rho degeneration decreased retinal and visual function, decreased the thickness of the retina and photoreceptor layers, and increased the number of blue autofluorescence spots at the level of the photoreceptor-RPE interface. Post-mortem analyses showed that induction caused loss of photoreceptors in the central retinal region, and increased TUNEL labeling in the outer nuclear layer (ONL). The RPE was disrupted 1 week after induction, with changes in cell size and shape accompanied by increased α-catenin translocation and Iba-1 staining. These outcomes were partially but statistically significantly prevented in the exercised mice. The exercised mice that underwent induced I307N Rho degeneration exhibited retinal function and visual function measures that were statistically indistinguishable from that of the uninduced mice, and compared to the unexercised induced mice, had thicker retina and photoreceptor layers, and decreased numbers of subretinal autofluorescent spots. Post-mortem, the retina sections from the exercised mice that had undergone induced I307N Rho degeneration exhibited numbers of photoreceptors that were statistically indistinguishable from those of uninduced mice. Similarly, exercise largely precluded a degeneration-induced increase in TUNEL-positive cells in the ONL. Finally, the RPE of the exercised mice appeared normal, with a regular cell shape and size, and little to no alpha-catenin translocation or Iba-1 immunosignal.


Voluntary wheel running partially protected against retinal degeneration and inflammation, and RPE disruption in a model of inducible adRP. This is the first report of exercise protection in an adult adRP animal model. It is also the first report of an RPE phenotype in the I307N Rho mouse. These findings add to a growing literature reporting that modest whole-body exercise is protective across a wide range of models of retinal damage and disease, and further highlights the potential for this accessible and inexpensive therapeutic intervention in the ophthalmic clinic.


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