Mutations in the retinitis pigmentosa 1 (RP1) gene are a common cause of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (adRP), and have also been found to cause autosomal recessive RP (arRP) in a few families. The 33 dominant mutations and 6 recessive RP1 mutations identified to date are all nonsense or frameshift mutations, and almost exclusively (38 out of 39) are located in the 4(th) and final exon of RP1. To better understand the underlying disease mechanisms of and help develop therapeutic strategies for RP1 disease, we performed a series of human genetic and animal studies using gene targeted and transgenic mice. Here we report that a frameshift mutation in the 3(rd) exon of RP1 (c.686delC; p.P229QfsX35) found in a patient with recessive RP1 disease causes RP in the homozygous state, whereas the heterozygous carriers are unaffected, confirming that haploinsufficiency is not the causative mechanism for RP1 disease. We then generated Rp1 knock-in mice with a nonsense Q662X mutation in exon 4, as well as Rp1 transgenic mice carrying a wild-type BAC Rp1 transgene. The Rp1-Q662X allele produces a truncated Rp1 protein, and homozygous Rp1-Q662X mice experience a progressive photoreceptor degeneration characterized disorganization of photoreceptor outer segments. This phenotype could be prevented by expression of a normal amount of Rp1 protein from the BAC transgene without removal of the mutant Rp1-Q662X protein. Over-expression of Rp1 protein in additional BAC Rp1 transgenic lines resulted in retinal degeneration. These findings suggest that the truncated Rp1-Q662X protein does not exert a toxic gain-of-function effect. These results also imply that in principle gene augmentation therapy could be beneficial for both recessive and dominant RP1 patients, but the levels of RP1 protein delivered for therapy will have to be carefully controlled.
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