Classical complement activation and acquired immune response pathways are not essential for retinal degeneration in the rd1 mouse

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Misregulation of the innate immune response and other immune-related processes have been suggested to play a critical role in the pathogenesis of a number of different neurodegenerative diseases, including age related macular degeneration. In an animal model for photoreceptor degeneration, several genes of the innate and acquired immune system were found to be differentially regulated in the retina during the degenerative process. In addition to this differential regulation of individual genes, we found that in the rd1 retina a significantly higher number of genes involved in immune-related responses were expressed at any given time during the degenerative period. The peak of immune-related gene expression was at postnatal day 14, coinciding with the peak of photoreceptor apoptosis in the rd1 mouse. We directly tested the potential involvement of acquired and innate immune responses in initiation and progression of photoreceptor degeneration by analyzing double mutant animals. Retinal morphology and photoreceptor apoptosis of rd1 mice on a SCID genetic background (no mature T- and B-cells) or in combination with a RAG1 (no functional B- and T-cells) or a C1qα (no functional classical complement activation pathway) knockout was followed during the degenerative process using light microscopy or TUNEL staining, respectively. Although complement factor C1qα was highly up-regulated in the rd1 retina concomitantly with the degenerative process, lack of this protein did not protect the rd1 retina. Similarly, retinal degeneration and photoreceptor apoptosis appeared to proceed normally in the rd1 mouse lacking functional B- and T-cells. Our results suggest that both, the classical complement system of innate immunity and a functional acquired immune response are not essential for the degenerative process in the rd1 mouse retina.

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