Mutation of RPE65 can cause severe blindness from birth or early childhood, and RPE65 protein is associated with retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) vitamin A metabolism. Here, we show that Rpe65-deficient mice exhibit changes in retinal physiology and biochemistry. Outer segment discs of rod photoreceptors in Rpe65-/- mice are disorganized compared with those of Rpe65+/+ and Rpe65+/- mice. Rod function, as measured by electroretinography, is abolished in Rpe65-/- mice, although cone function remains. Rpe65-/- mice lack rhodopsin, but not opsin apoprotein. Furthermore, all-trans-retinyl esters over-accumulate in the RPE of Rpe65-/- mice, whereas 11-cis-retinyl esters are absent. Disruption of the RPE-based metabolism of all-trans-retinyl esters to 11-cis-retinal thus appears to underlie the Rpe65-/- phenotype, although cone pigment regeneration may be dependent on a separate pathway.
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