The pathophysiology of the E150K mutation in the rod opsin gene associated with autosomal recessive retinitis pigmentosa (arRP) has yet to be determined. We generated knock-in mice carrying a single nucleotide change in exon 2 of the rod opsin gene resulting in the E150K mutation. This novel mouse model displayed severe retinal degeneration affecting rhodopsin's stabilization of rod outer segments (ROS). Homozygous E150K (KK) mice exhibited early-onset retinal degeneration, with disorganized ROS structures, autofluorescent deposits in the subretinal space, and aberrant photoreceptor phagocytosis. Heterozygous (EK) mice displayed a delayed-onset milder retinal degeneration. Further, mutant receptors were mislocalized to the inner segments and perinuclear region. Though KK mouse rods displayed markedly decreased phototransduction, biochemical studies of the mutant rhodopsin revealed only minimally affected chromophore binding and G protein activation. Ablation of the chromophore by crossing KK mice with mice lacking the critical visual cycle protein LRAT slowed retinal degeneration, whereas blocking phototransduction by crossing KK mice with GNAT1-deficient mice slightly accelerated this process. This study highlights the importance of proper higher-order organization of rhodopsin in the native tissue and provides information about the signaling properties of this mutant rhodopsin. Additionally, these results suggest that patients heterozygous for the E150K mutation should be periodically reevaluated for delayed-onset retinal degeneration.
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