Category Archives: Retinal Disease

Modeling Complex Age-Related Eye Disease

We have a new Progress in Retinal and Eye Research manuscript out in collaboration with my colleagues here at the Moran Eye Center.

Authors: Silke Becker, Zia L’Ecuyer, Bryan W Jones, Moussa A Zouache, Fiona S McDonnell, Frans Vinberg.

Abstract: Modeling complex eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and glaucoma poses significant challenges, since these conditions depend highly on age-related changes that occur over several decades, with many contributing factors remaining unknown. Although both diseases exhibit a relatively high heritability of >50%, a large proportion of individuals carrying AMD- or glaucoma-associated genetic risk variants will never develop these diseases. Furthermore, several environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to and modulate the pathogenesis and progression of AMD and glaucoma.

Several strategies replicate the impact of genetic risk variants, pathobiological pathways and environmental and lifestyle factors in AMD and glaucoma in mice and other species. In this review we will mostly discuss the most commonly available mouse models, which have and will likely continue to improve our understanding of the pathobiology of age-related eye diseases. Uncertainties persist whether small animal models can truly recapitulate disease progression and vision loss in patients, raising doubts regarding their usefulness when testing novel gene or drug therapies. We will elaborate on concerns that relate to shorter lifespan, body size and allometries, lack of macula and a true lamina cribrosa, as well as absence and sequence disparities of certain genes and differences in their chromosomal location in mice.

Since biological, rather than chronological, age likely predisposes an organism for both glaucoma and AMD, more rapidly aging organisms like small rodents may open up possibilities that will make research of these diseases more timely and financially feasible. On the other hand, due to the above-mentioned anatomical and physiological features, as well as pharmacokinetic and -dynamic differences small animal models are not ideal to study the natural progression of vision loss or the efficacy and safety of novel therapies. In this context, we will also discuss the advantages and pitfalls of alternative models that include larger species, such as non-human primates and rabbits, patient-derived retinal organoids, and human organ donor eyes.

Preprint: Neural Circuit Revision in Retinal Remodeling, A Pathoconnectomics Approach

We have a new preprint out, Neural Circuit Revision in Retinal Remodeling, A Pathoconnectomics Approach.

Authors: Rebecca L Pfeiffer, Jeebika Dahal, Crystal L Sigulinsky, James R Anderson, Isabel A Barrera, Jia-Hui Yang, Olivia Haddadin, Alexis R Houser, Jessica C Garcia, Bryan William Jones

Abstract: The Aii glycinergic amacrine cell (Aii) plays a central role in bridging rod pathways with cone pathways, enabling an increased dynamic range of vision from scotopic to photopic ranges. The Aii integrates scotopic signals via chemical synapses from rod bipolar cells (RodBCs) onto the arboreal processes of Aii ACs, injecting signals into ON-cone bipolar cells (CBbs) via gap junctions with Aiis on the arboreal processes and the waist of the Aii ACs. The CBbs then carry this information to ON and OFF ganglion cell classes. In addition, the Aii is involved in the surround inhibition of OFF cone bipolar cells (CBas) through glycinergic chemical synapses from Aii ACs onto CBas. We have previously shown changes in RodBC connectivity as a consequence of rod photoreceptor degeneration in a pathoconnectome of early retinal degeneration: RPC1. Here, we evaluated the impact of rod photoreceptor degeneration on the connectivity of the Aii to determine the impacts of photoreceptor degeneration on the downstream network of the neural retina and its suitability for integrating therapeutic interventions as rod photoreceptors are lost. Previously, we reported that in early retinal degeneration, prior to photoreceptor cell loss, Rod BCs make pathological gap junctions with Aiis. Here, we further characterize this altered connectivity and additional shifts in both the excitatory drive and gap junctional coupling of Aiis in retinal degeneration, along with discussion of the broader impact of altered connectivity networks. New findings reported here demonstrate that Aiis make additional gap junctions with CBas increasing the number of BC classes that make pathological gap junctional connectivity with Aiis in degenerating retina. In this study, we also report that the Aii, a tertiary retinal neuron alters their synaptic contacts early in photoreceptor degeneration, indicating that rewiring occurs in more distant members of the retinal network earlier in degeneration than was previously predicted. This rewiring impacts retinal processing, presumably acuity, and ultimately its ability to support therapeutics designed to restore image-forming vision. Finally, these Aii alterations may be the cellular network level finding that explains one of the first clinical complaints from human patients with retinal degenerative disease, an inability to adapt back and forth from photopic to scotopic conditions.

Metabolic changes and retinal remodeling in Heterozygous CRX mutant cats (CRXRDY/+)

We have a new manuscript from the lab in Experimental Eye Research, (PubMed link here). Metabolic changes and retinal remodeling in Heterozygous CRX mutant cats (CRXRDY/+). This manuscript is in collaboration with the Simon Petersen-Jones lab out of Michigan State University.  Authors are: Laurence M. Occelli, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones, Taylor J. Cervantes, and Simon M. Petersen-Jones. The PDF is here.

Abstract: CRX is a transcription factor essential for normal photoreceptor development and survival. The CRXRdy cat has a naturally occurring truncating mutation in CRX and is a large animal model for dominant Leber congenital amaurosis. This study investigated retinal remodeling that occurs as photoreceptors degenerate. CRXRdy/+ cats from 6 weeks to 10 years of age were investigated. In vivo structural changes of retinas were analyzed by fundus examination, confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy and spectral domain optical coherence tomography. Histologic analyses including immunohistochemistry for computational molecular phenotyping with macromolecules and small molecules. Affected cats had a cone-led photoreceptor degeneration starting in the area centralis. Initially there was preservation of inner retinal cells such as bipolar, amacrine and horizontal cells but with time migration of the deafferented neurons occurred. Early in the process of degeneration glial activation occurs ultimately resulting in formation of a glial seal. With progression the macula-equivalent area centralis developed severe atrophy including loss of retinal pigmentary epithelium. Microneuroma formation occurs in advanced stages as more marked retinal remodeling occurred. This study indicates that retinal degeneration in the CrxRdy/+ cat retina follows the progressive, phased revision of retina that have been previously described for retinal remodeling. These findings suggest that therapy dependent on targeting inner retinal cells may be useful in young adults with preserved inner retinas prior to advanced stages of retinal remodeling and neuronal cell loss.

Impact of Retinal Degeneration on Response of ON and OFF Cone Bipolar Cells to Electrical Stimulation

We have a new manuscript from the lab in IEEE, Impact of Retinal Degeneration on Response of ON and OFF Cone Bipolar Cells to Electrical Stimulation. This manuscript is in collaboration with the Lazzi lab out of USC.  The first author, Shayan Farzad, Pragya Kosta, Ege Iseri, Steven T Walston, Jean-Marie C. Bouteiller,  Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, Crystal L. Sigulinsky @CSigulinsky, Jia-Hui Yang, Jessica C. Garcia, James R. Anderson, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones, and Gianluca Lazzi. The PDF is here.

Abstract: In retinal degenerative diseases, such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the photoreceptors become stressed and start to degenerate in the early stages of the disease. Retinal prosthetic devices have been developed to restore vision in patients by applying electrical stimulation to the surviving retinal cells. However, these devices provide limited visual perception as the therapeutic interventions are generally considered in the later stages of the disease when only inner retinal layer cells are left. A potential treatment option for retinal degenerative diseases in the early stages can be stimulating bipolar cells, which receive presynaptic signals from photoreceptors. In this work, we constructed computational models of healthy and degenerated (both ON and OFF-type) cone bipolar cells (CBCs) with realistic morphologies extracted from connectomes of the healthy and early-stage degenerated rabbit retina. We examined these cells’ membrane potential and axon terminal calcium current differences when subjected to electrical stimulation. In addition, we investigated how differently healthy and degenerated cells behave with respect to various stimulation parameters, including pulse duration and cells’ distance from the stimulating electrode. The results suggested that regardless of the position of the OFF CBCs in the retina model, there is not a significant difference between the membrane potential of healthy and degenerate cells when electrically stimulated. However, the healthy ON CBC axon terminal membrane potential rising time-constant is shorter (0.29 ± 0.03 ms) than the degenerated cells (0.8 ± 0.07 ms). Moreover, the ionic calcium channels at the axon terminals of the cells have a higher concentration and higher current in degenerated cells (32.24 ± 6.12 pA) than the healthy cells (13.64 ± 2.88 pA) independently of the cell’s position.

Müller Cell Connectomics In Health And Disease

This talk was presented today, April 25th at the 2023 Association for Research in Vision and Opthalmology (ARVO) meetings in New Orleans, Louisiana by Rebecca Pfeiffer as part of an ARVO Minisymposium Bryan William Jones organized.

Abstract: Muller cells are a critical component of retinal function and rapidly change metabolically and morphologically in retinal disease. Of Muller cell functions, many require close physical relationships between the Muller cell and the synapses of the neurons they support. Despite this required neuro-glial relationship, little is known about the direct contacts between Muller cells and synapses in healthy or diseased retinas. In order to address this, I use a connectomics/pathoconnectomics approach to reconstruct Muller cells and their neighboring synapses. The retinas evaluated are from a healthy rabbit, retinal connectome 1 (RC1), and from the P347L rabbit model of retinitis pigmentosa, retinal pathoconnectome 1 (RPC1). Preliminary data demonstrate an increase in endfoot entanglement in RPC1 when compared with RC1, and direct synaptic contact analysis of both connectomes is ongoing.

Current Perspective on Retinal Remodeling: Implications for Therapeutics

We have a new paper out of the lab, a perspectives paper on Retinal Remodeling: Implications for Therapeutics. (pdf here).

Authors are Rebecca L. Pfeiffer @BeccaPfeiffer19, and Bryan W. Jones @BWJones.

Abstract: The retinal degenerative diseases retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration are a leading cause of irreversible vision loss. Both present with progressive photoreceptor degeneration that is further complicated by processes of retinal remodeling. In this perspective, we discuss the current state of the field of retinal remodeling and its implications for vision-restoring therapeutics currently in development. Here, we discuss the challenges and pitfalls retinal remodeling poses for each therapeutic strategy under the premise that understanding the features of retinal remodeling in totality will provide a basic framework with which therapeutics can interface. Additionally, we discuss the potential for approaching therapeutics using a combined strategy of using diffusible molecules in tandem with other vision-restoring therapeutics. We end by discussing the potential of the retina and retinal remodeling as a model system for more broadly understanding the progression of neurodegeneration across the central nervous system.

Peptide-Based Immunotherapy Against Oxidized Elastin Ameliorates Pathology In Mouse Model Of Smoke-Induced Ocular Injury

We have a new collaborative manuscript out in iOVS, Peptide-Based Immunotherapy Against Oxidized Elastin Ameliorates Pathology In Mouse Model Of Smoke-Induced Ocular Injury. (pdf here)

Authors: Bärbel Rohrer, Nathaniel Parsons , Balasubramaniam Annamalai , Crystal Nicholson , Elisabeth Obert , Bryan Jones @BWJones, and Andrew D Dick.


Purpose: Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in western populations, is associated with an overactive complement system, and an increase in circulating antibodies against certain epitopes, including elastin. As loss of the elastin layer of Bruch’s membrane (BrM) has been reported in aging and AMD, we previously showed that immunization with elastin peptide oxidatively modified by cigarette smoke (ox-elastin), exacerbated ocular pathology in the smoke-induced ocular pathology (SIOP) model. Here we asked whether ox-elastin peptide-based immunotherapy (PIT) ameliorates damage.

Methods: C57BL/6J mice were injected with ox-elastin peptide at two doses via weekly subcutaneous administration, while exposed to cigarette smoke for 6 months. FcγR-/- and uninjected C57BL/6J mice served as controls. Retinal morphology was assessed by by electron microscopy, and complement activation, antibody deposition and mechanisms of immunological tolerance were assessed by Western blotting and ELISA.

Results: Elimination of Fcγ receptors, preventing antigen/antibody-dependent cytotoxicity, protected against SIOP. Mice receiving PIT with low dose ox-elastin (LD-PIT) exhibited reduced humoral immunity, reduced complement activation and IgG/IgM deposition in the RPE/choroid, and largely a preserved BrM. While there is no direct evidence of ox-elastin pathogenicity, LD-PIT reduced IFNγ and increased IL-4 within RPE/choroid. High dose PIT was not protective.

Conclusions: These data further support ox-elastin role in ocular damage in in part via elastin-specific antibodies, and support the corollary that PIT with ox-elastin attenuates ocular pathology. Overall, damage is associated with complement activation, antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity, and altered cytokine signature.

Keywords: Age-related macular degeneration; Complement; Elastin; Peptide-based immunotherapy; Smoking.

Natural Immunoglobulin M-based Delivery of a Complement Alternative Pathway Inhibitor in Mouse Models of Retinal Degeneration

We have a new manuscript out in Experimental Eye Research, Natural Immunoglobulin M-based Delivery of a Complement Alternative Pathway Inhibitor in Mouse Models of Retinal Degeneration. (pdf here)

Authors: Balasubramaniam Annamalai, Nathaniel Parsons, Crystal Nicholson, Kusumam Joseph, Beth Coughlin, Xiaofeng Yang, Bryan W. Jones @BWJones, Stephen Tomlinson, and Bärbel Rohrer.


Purpose: Age-related macular degeneration is a slowly progressing disease. Studies have tied disease risk to an overactive complement system. We have previously demonstrated that pathology in two mouse models, the choroidal neovascularization (CNV) model and the smoke-induced ocular pathology (SIOP) model, can be reduced by specifically inhibiting the alternative complement pathway (AP). Here we report on the development of a novel injury-site targeted inhibitor of the alternative pathway, and its characterization in models of retinal degeneration.

Methods: Expression of the danger associated molecular pattern, a modified annexin IV, in injured ARPE-19 cells was confirmed by immunohistochemistry and complementation assays using B4 IgM mAb. Subsequently, a construct was prepared consisting of B4 single chain antibody (scFv) linked to a fragment of the alternative pathway inhibitor, fH (B4-scFv-fH). ARPE-19 cells stably expressing B4-scFv-fH were microencapsulated and administered intravitreally or subcutaneously into C57BL/6 J mice, followed by CNV induction or smoke exposure. Progression of CNV was analyzed using optical coherence tomography, and SIOP using structure-function analyses. B4-scFv-fH targeting and AP specificity was assessed by Western blot and binding experiments.

Results: B4-scFv-fH was secreted from encapsulated RPE and inhibited complement in RPE monolayers. B4-scFv-fH capsules reduced CNV and SIOP, and western blotting for C3a, C3d, IgM and IgG confirmed a reduction in complement activation and antibody binding in RPE/choroid.

Conclusions: Data supports a role for natural antibodies and neoepitope expression in ocular disease, and describes a novel strategy to target AP-specific complement inhibition to diseased tissue in the eye.

Precis: AMD risk is tied to an overactive complement system, and ocular injury is reduced by alternative pathway (AP) inhibition in experimental models. We developed a novel inhibitor of the AP that targets an injury-specific danger associated molecular pattern, and characterized it in disease models.

Keywords: Alternative pathway inhibitor; Choroidal neovascularization; Complement system; Encapsulated ARPE-19 cells; Natural antibody-mediated targeting; Smoke-induced ocular pathology.

Subretinal Rather Than Intravitreal Adeno-Associated Virus–Mediated Delivery of a Complement Alternative Pathway Inhibitor Is Effective in a Mouse Model of RPE Damage

We have a new manuscript out in iOVS, Subretinal Rather Than Intravitreal Adeno-Associated Virus–Mediated Delivery of a Complement Alternative Pathway Inhibitor Is Effective in a Mouse Model of RPE Damage. (pdf here)

Authors: Balasubramaniam Annamalai; Nathaniel Parsons; Crystal Nicholson; Elisabeth Obert; Bryan W. Jones @BWJones; and Bärbel Rohrer.


Purpose: The risk for age-related macular degeneration has been tied to an overactive complement system. Despite combined attempts by academia and industry to develop therapeutics that modulate the complement response, particularly in the late geographic atrophy form of advanced AMD, to date, there is no effective treatment. We have previously demonstrated that pathology in the smoke-induced ocular pathology (SIOP) model, a model with similarities to dry AMD, is dependent on activation of the alternative complement pathway and that a novel complement activation site targeted inhibitor of the alternative pathway can be delivered to ocular tissues via an adeno-associated virus (AAV).

Methods: Two different viral vectors for specific tissue targeting were compared: AAV5-VMD2-CR2-fH for delivery to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and AAV2YF-smCBA-CR2-fH for delivery to retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Efficacy was tested in SIOP (6 months of passive smoke inhalation), assessing visual function (optokinetic responses), retinal structure (optical coherence tomography), and integrity of the RPE and Bruch’s membrane (electron microscopy). Protein chemistry was used to assess complement activation, CR2-fH tissue distribution, and CR2-fH transport across the RPE.

Results: RPE- but not RGC-mediated secretion of CR2-fH was found to reduce SIOP and complement activation in RPE/choroid. Bioavailability of CR2-fH in RPE/choroid could be confirmed only after AAV5-VMD2-CR2-fH treatment, and inefficient, adenosine triphosphate–dependent transport of CR2-fH across the RPE was identified.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that complement inhibition for AMD-like pathology is required basal to the RPE and argues in favor of AAV vector delivery to the RPE or outside the blood-retina barrier.