Experts attempting to discover the cause of a type of blinding condition that affects dogs may have found the clue to retinal regeneration.
After more than 30 years of research, University of Pennsylvania veterinarians and vision-research scientists, along with associates at Cornell University, have identified a gene which is responsible for early retinal degeneration (ERD), a blindness-inducing disease that afflicts dogs.
However, in the process, the scientists may have discovered clues about how retinal cells, and perhaps even neurons, can be regenerated.
The study was conducted by Gustavo D Aguirre, William A Beltran, Agnes I Berta and Sem Genini of Penn"s School of Veterinary Medicine, along with Kathleen Boesze-Battaglia of the Penn School of Dental Medicine, and published in the open access journal PLOS One.
Since the late 1960s, Aguirre and his colleagues began narrowing down the list of genes that could be responsible for ERDs and found it in the dog"s genome.
After developing the dog genetic map in the late "90s and then mapping the disease to a known region of the genome, the experts had a physical interval to look for this gene in, eventually finding that it was a "very important gene" to the retina.
Although the exact function of the relevant gene has yet to be identified, it is likely involved in the control of the cell division cycle.
Usually, photoreceptor cells in the retina stop dividing shortly after birth, but these hybrid photoreceptors continue to divide during ERD"s plateau period, the expert explained.
He noted that understanding what keeps those cells rejuvenating may hold the key for therapies that can hold off the onset of blindness, or even reverse it.
Dr Aguirre explained: "We can better understand the way that the photoreceptor cells divide by studying this disease and potentially manipulate the gene in such a way that you could get the division component without the abnormal component.
"If we could regrow our diseased retinal cells, it would be wonderful," the expert added.
by Adrian Galbreth