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Mutations in USH2A gene are responsible for the greatest proportion of the Usher Syndrome (USH) population, among which more than 30% are frameshift mutations on exon 13. A clinically relevant animal model has been absent for USH2A-related vision loss. Here we sought to establish a rabbit model carrying USH2A frameshift mutation on exon 12 (human exon 13 equivalent). CRISPR/Cas9 reagents targeting the rabbit USH2A exon 12 were delivered into rabbit embryos to produce an USH2A mutant rabbit line. The USH2A knockout animals were subjected to a series of functional and morphological analyses, including acoustic auditory brainstem responses, electroretinography, optical coherence tomography, fundus photography, fundus autofluorescence, histology, and immunohistochemistry. The USH2A mutant rabbits exhibit hyper-autofluorescent signals on fundus autofluorescence and hyper-reflective signals on optical coherence tomography images as early as 4 months of age, which indicate retinal pigment epithelium damage. Auditory brainstem response measurement in these rabbits showed moderate to severe hearing loss. Electroretinography signals of both rod and cone function were decreased in the USH2A mutant rabbits starting from 7 months of age and further decreased at 15 to 22 months of age, indicating progressive photoreceptor degeneration, which is confirmed by histopathological examination. Disruption of USH2A gene in rabbits is sufficient to induce hearing loss and progressive photoreceptor degeneration, mimicking the USH2A clinical disease. To our knowledge, this study presents the first mammalian model of USH2 showing the phenotype of retinitis pigmentosa. This study supports the use of rabbits as a clinically relevant large animal model to understand the pathogenesis and to develop novel therapeutics for Usher syndrome.


Van Phuc Nguyen, Jun Song, Diane Prieskorn, Junhuang Zou, Yanxiu Li, David Dolan, Jie Xu, Jifeng Zhang, K Thiran Jayasundera, Jun Yang, Yehoash Raphael, Naheed Khan, Michael Iannuzzi, Charles Bisgaier, Y Eugene Chen, Yannis M Paulus, Dongshan Yang. USH2A Gene Mutations in Rabbits Lead to Progressive Retinal Degeneration and Hearing Loss. Translational vision science & technology. 2023 Feb 01;12(2):26

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PMID: 36795064

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