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Photoreceptor sensory cilia and ciliopathies: focus on CEP290, RPGR and their interacting proteins

Rivka A Rachel, Tiansen Li and Anand Swaroop*

Author Affiliations

Neurobiology-Neurodegeneration & Repair Laboratory, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, 20892, USA

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Cilia 2012, 1:22  doi:10.1186/2046-2530-1-22

Published: 3 December 2012


Ciliopathies encompass a broad array of clinical findings associated with genetic defects in biogenesis and/or function of the primary cilium, a ubiquitous organelle involved in the transduction of diverse biological signals. Degeneration or dysfunction of retinal photoreceptors is frequently observed in diverse ciliopathies. The sensory cilium in a photoreceptor elaborates into unique outer segment discs that provide extensive surface area for maximal photon capture and efficient visual transduction. The daily renewal of approximately 10% of outer segments requires a precise control of ciliary transport. Here, we review the ciliopathies with associated retinal degeneration, describe the distinctive structure of the photoreceptor cilium, and discuss mouse models that allow investigations into molecular mechanisms of cilia biogenesis and defects. We have specifically focused on two ciliary proteins – CEP290 and RPGR – that underlie photoreceptor degeneration and syndromic ciliopathies. Mouse models of CEP290 and RPGR disease, and of their multiple interacting partners, have helped unravel new functional insights into cell type-specific phenotypic defects in distinct ciliary proteins. Elucidation of multifaceted ciliary functions and associated protein complexes will require concerted efforts to assimilate diverse datasets from in vivo and in vitro studies. We therefore discuss a possible framework for investigating genetic networks associated with photoreceptor cilia biogenesis and pathology.

Ciliopathy; Retinal degeneration; Primary cilium; Sensory cilia; CEP290; RPGR; Bardet–Biedl syndrome; Leber congenital amaurosis; Joubert syndrome; Nephronophthisis