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Prog Neurobiol. 1997 Dec;53(5):547-60.

Dystrophin in the retina.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Experimentelle Medizin, Göttingen, Germany.


Dystrophin is a plasma membrane-associated cytoskeletal protein of the spectrin superfamily. The dystrophin cytoskeleton has been first characterized in muscle. Muscular 427 kDa dystrophin binds to subplasmalemmal actin filaments via its amino-terminal domain. The carboxy-terminus of dystrophin binds to a plasma membrane anchor, beta-dystroglycan, which is associated on the external side with the extracellular matrix receptor, alpha-dystroglycan, that binds to the basal lamina proteins laminin-1, laminin-2, and agrin. In the muscle, the dystroglycan complex is associated with the sarcoglycan complex that consists of several glycosylated, integral membrane proteins. The absence or functional deficiency of the dystrophin cytoskeleton is the cause of several types of muscular dystrophies including the lethal Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), one of the most severe and most common genetic disorders of man. The dystrophin complex is believed to stabilize the plasma membrane during cycles of contraction and relaxation. Muscular dystrophin and several types of dystrophin variants are also present in extramuscular tissues, e.g. in distinct regions of the central nervous systems including the retina. Absence of dystrophin from these sites is believed to be responsible for some extramuscular symptoms of DMD, e.g. mental retardation and disturbances in retinal electrophysiology (reduced b-wave in electroretinograms). The reduced b-wave in electroretinograms indicated a disturbance of neurotransmission between photoreceptors and ON-bipolar cells. At least two different dystrophin variants are present in photoreceptor synaptic complexes. One of these dystrophins (Dp260) is virtually exclusively expressed in the retina. In the neuroretina, dystrophin is found in significant amounts in the invaginated photoreceptor synaptic complexes. At this location dystrophin colocalizes with dystroglycan. Agrin, an extracellular ligand of alpha-dystroglycan, is also present at this location whereas the proteins of the sarcoglycan complex appear to be absent in photoreceptor synaptic complexes. Dystrophin and dystroglycan are located distal from the ribbon-containing active synaptic zones where both proteins are restricted to the photoreceptor plasma membrane bordering on the lateral sides of the synaptic invagination. In addition, some neuronal profiles of the postsynaptic complex also contain dystrophin and beta-dystroglycan. These profiles appear to belong at least in part to projections of the photoreceptor terminals into the postsynaptic dendritic complex. In view of the abnormal neurotransmission between photoreceptors and ON-bipolar cells in DMD patients the dystrophin/beta-dystroglycan-containing projections of photoreceptor presynaptic terminals into the postsynaptic dendritic plexus might somehow modify the ON-bipolar pathway. Another retinal site associated with dystrophin/beta-dystropglycan is the plasma membrane of Müller cells where dystrophin/beta-dystroglycan appear to be present at particular high concentrations. At this location the dystrophin/dystroglycan complex may play a role in the attachment of the retina to the vitreous, and, under pathological conditions, in traction-induced retinal detachment.

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