Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) represents the most common mendelian degenerative retinopathy of man, involving death of rod photoreceptors, cone cell degeneration, retinal vessel attenuation and pigmentary deposits. The patient experiences night blindness, usually followed by progressive loss of visual field. Genetic linkage between an autosomal dominant RP locus and rhodopsin, the photoreactive pigment of the rod cells, led to the identification of mutations within the rhodopsin gene in both dominant and recessive forms of RP. To better understand the functional and structural role of rhodopsin in the normal retina and in the pathogenesis of retinal disease, we generated mice carrying a targeted disruption of the rhodopsin gene. Rho(-/-) mice do not elaborate rod outer segments, losing their photoreceptors over 3 months. There is no rod ERG response in 8-week-old animals. Rho(+/-) animals retain the majority of their photoreceptors although the inner and outer segments of these cells display some structural disorganization, the outer segments becoming shorter in older mice. These animals should provide a useful genetic background on which to express other mutant opsin transgenes, as well as a model to assess the therapeutic potential of re-introducing functional rhodopsin genes into degenerating retinal tissues.
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