Purpose. To determine whether retinal transplantation can preserve visual responses in the superior colliculus (SC) of the S334ter-line-5 rat, a transgenic model for slow photoreceptor degeneration, which is more similar to human retinitis pigmentosa than the fast degeneration line 3 S334ter rat.
Methods. Visual responses to a light flash were recorded in the SC. Rats that had received embryonic day (E) 19–20 fetal retinal sheet transplants at the age of 26–30 days were tested at the ages of 200–254 days. Controls were age-matched rats without surgery and with sham surgery. As a baseline, in no-surgery line-5 rats, the temporal pattern of visual sensitivity loss was evaluated electrophysiologically in the SC from 60 days up to one year of age.
Results. In untreated S334ter-line-5 rats, decline in visual sensitivity in the SC was parallel to the photoreceptor loss. At 109 day of age, a relative scotoma developed in the area of the SC corresponding to the nasal retinal region. At 200–254 days of age, the majority of the SC was devoid of any light-driven responses. In contrast, at this time point, transplanted rats with ‘good’ retinal grafts with normal lamination had visual responses in the caudal region of the SC, the area corresponding topographically to the transplant location in the retina. In these rats, the various parameters of SC responses such as the latency of the onset of the visual response, the response peak amplitude and the consistency of the visual response were significantly different from the control groups (no-surgery, sham surgery, ‘poor’ transplants) and were more comparable to normal albino rats, however, with a slightly longer latency (70–90 vs. 30–50 msec).
Conclusions. Fetal retinal sheet transplantation showed a long-term rescue effect on visual function in this animal model of slow photoreceptor degeneration.