Pharmacological Modulation of Photoreceptor Outer Segment Degradation in a Human iPS Cell Model of Inherited Macular Degeneration
Degradation of photoreceptor outer segments (POS) by retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is essential for vision, and studies have implicated altered POS processing in the pathogenesis of some retinal degenerative diseases. Consistent with this concept, a recently established hiPSC-RPE model of inherited macular degeneration, Best disease (BD), displayed reduced rates of POS breakdown. Herein we utilized this model to determine (i) if disturbances in protein degradation pathways are associated with delayed POS digestion and (ii) whether such defect(s) can be pharmacologically targeted. We found that BD hiPSC-RPE cultures possessed increased protein oxidation, decreased free-ubiquitin levels, and altered rates of exosome secretion, consistent with altered POS processing. Application of valproic acid (VPA) with or without rapamycin increased rates of POS degradation in our model, whereas application of bafilomycin-A1 decreased such rates. Importantly, the negative effect of bafilomycin-A1 could be fully reversed by VPA. The utility of hiPSC-RPE for VPA testing was further evident following examination of its efficacy and metabolism in a complementary canine disease model. Our findings suggest that disturbances in protein degradation pathways contribute to the POS processing defect observed in BD hiPSC-RPE, which can be manipulated pharmacologically. These results have therapeutic implications for BD and perhaps other maculopathies.