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Research Article

A mouse model of gyrate atrophy of the choroid and retina. Early retinal pigment epithelium damage and progressive retinal degeneration.

T Wang, A H Milam, G Steel and D Valle

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205, USA.

Published June 15, 1996

Gyrate atrophy (GA) of the choroid and retina is a blinding chorioretinal degeneration caused by deficiency of ornithine delta-aminotransferase (OAT). The phenotype of GA is characterized by progressive concentric reduction of the visual fields and ornithine accumulation. To understand better the pathogenesis of GA and to develop a model to test therapeutic strategies, we produced an OAT-deficient mouse by gene targeting. Like human GA patients, adult OAT-deficient mice exhibit chronic hyperornithinemia to levels 10-15-fold above normal and massive ornithinuria. Slowly progressive retinal degeneration is reflected by a gradual decline in electroretinogram amplitudes over the first 12 mo of life. At 2 mo, the retinal pigment epithelium is histologically normal, but electron microscopy reveals sporadic degeneration of scattered pigment epithelial cells. By 6 mo there are more diffuse abnormalities of the pigment epithelium with accumulation of large phagosomes and crystalloid inclusions. Although morphologically normal at 2 mo, the photo-receptor outer segments become highly disorganized and shortened to 60% of control length by 10 mo. Additionally, there is cumulative loss of the photoreceptor cells, which reaches 33% by 10 mo and is most pronounced in the central region of the retina. Our results indicate that retinal pigment epithelial cells are the initial site of insult in GA and that the OAT-deficient mouse is an excellent animal model of GA in human patients.

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