Optogenetic approaches to therapy for inherited retinal degenerations.
De Silva SR., Moore AT.
Inherited retinal degenerations such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) affect around one in 4000 people and are the leading cause of blindness in working age adults in several countries. In these typically monogenic conditions, there is progressive degeneration of photoreceptors; however, inner retinal neurons such as bipolar cells and ganglion cells remain largely structurally intact, even in end-stage disease. Therapeutic approaches aiming to stimulate these residual cells, independent of the underlying genetic cause, could potentially restore visual function in patients with advanced vision loss, and benefit many more patients than therapies directed at the specific gene implicated in each disorder. One approach investigated for this purpose is that of optogenetics, a method of neuromodulation that utilises light to activate neurons engineered to ectopically express a light-sensitive protein. Using gene therapy via adeno-associated viral vectors, a range of photosensitive proteins have been expressed in remaining retinal cells in advanced retinal degeneration with in vivo studies demonstrating restoration of visual function. Developing an effective optogenetic strategy requires consideration of multiple factors, including the light-sensitive protein that is used, the vector and method for gene delivery, and the target cell for expression because these in turn may affect the quality of vision that can be restored. Currently, at least four clinical trials are ongoing to investigate optogenetic therapies in patients, with the ultimate aim of reversing visual loss in end-stage disease.