Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) is a group of devastating early-onset retinal dystrophies affecting roughly 1/50,000 to 1/33,000 newborns. LCA-associated variants in the CRX gene result in a severe autosomal dominant form of the disease, for which no effective treatments are currently available. Importantly, both mouse and human studies suggest that haploinsufficiency is not responsible for disease manifestation in dominant CRX- associated LCA, and one copy of wildtype CRX is enough to allow for mostly normal photoreceptor maturation and function. Despite substantial progress being made in the field, there is a critical need to uncover pathophysiology and establish reliable treatment options for CRX-associated LCA. The overall goal of this proposal is to bring together two major unsolved problems in vision research: (1) the ability to accurately recapitulate dominant LCA in a scalable in vitro model system to study variant-specific disease mechanisms, and (2) the ability to efficiently and specifically eliminate dominant disease alleles, leaving healthy alleles to restore photoreceptor cell function.
In Aim 1, we will develop and characterize iPSC-based disease models from two different dominant variants of CRX. We will validate disease phenotypes using retinal organoids.
In Aim 2, variant-specific disease mechanisms responsible for the onset of LCA will be examined by generating a retinal organoid model system from patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells.
In Aim 3, mutant CRX alleles will be inactivated with CRISPR tools within the human retinal organoid model to study rescue of disease phenotypes. Completion of this aim will provide the field with a proof-of-concept study for the development of patient-specific CRISPR-based therapeutic strategies. Taken together, the proposed studies will contribute to our basic understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying photoreceptor dysfunction in dominant CRX-associated LCA, and will enable the development of targeted gene therapies to treat affected individuals.
With no effective treatments currently available, Leber Congenital Amaurosis accounts for 5% of all retinal dystrophies and 20% of blindness in school age children. This proposal aims to establish a retinal organoid model system that recapitulates disease phenotypes to allow for the investigation into mechanistic causes and therapeutic rescue of dominant forms of this disease. These studies will provide a pipeline for therapeutic gene editing to treat individuals with severe dominant retinal diseases.