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Gene Therapy for Inherited Retinal Diseases: Top 10 Medical Innovations 2018
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Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of genetic eye conditions. In the progression of symptoms for RP, night blindness generally precedes tunnel vision by years or even decades. Many people with RP do not become legally blind until their 40s or 50s and retain some sight all their life. Others go completely blind from RP, in some cases as early as childhood. Progression of RP is different in each case. RP is a type of hereditary retinal dystrophy, a group of inherited disorders in which abnormalities of the photoreceptors (rods and cones) or the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) of the retina lead to progressive visual loss. Affected individuals first experience defective dark adaptation or nyctalopia (night blindness), followed by reduction of the peripheral visual field (known as tunnel vision) and, sometimes, loss of central vision late in the course of the disease.

Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA) is an eye disorder that primarily affects the retina which is the specialized tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and color. People with this condition typically have severe visual impairment beginning in infancy. The visual impairment tends to be stable, although it may worsen very slowly over time.

Other features include photophobia, involuntary movements of the eyes (nystagmus), and extreme farsightedness. The pupils also do not react normally to light (photophobia), involuntary movements of the eyes (nystagmus), and extreme farsightedness (hyperopia).

The pupils, which usually expand and contract in response to the amount of light entering the eye, do not react normally to light. Instead, they expand and contract more slowly than normal, or they may not respond to light at all. Additionally, the clear front covering of the eye (the cornea) may be cone-shaped and abnormally thin, a condition known as keratoconus.

A specific behavior called Franceschetti's oculo-digital sign is characteristic of Leber congenital amaurosis. This sign consists of poking, pressing, and rubbing the eyes with a knuckle or finger. Researchers suspect that this behavior may contribute to deep-set eyes and keratoconus in affected children.

In rare cases, delayed development and intellectual disability have been reported in people with the features of Leber congenital amaurosis. However, researchers are uncertain whether these individuals actually have Leber congenital amaurosis or another syndrome with similar signs and symptoms.

At least 13 types of Leber congenital amaurosis have been described. The types are distinguished by their genetic cause, patterns of vision loss, and related eye abnormalities.

Leber congenital amaurosis can result from mutations in at least 14 genes, all of which are necessary for normal vision. These genes play a variety of roles in the development and function of the retina. For example, some of the genes associated with this disorder are necessary for the normal development of light-detecting cells called photoreceptors. Other genes are involved in phototransduction, the process by which light entering the eye is converted into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain. Still other genes play a role in the function of cilia, which are microscopic finger-like projections that stick out from the surface of many types of cells. Cilia are necessary for the perception of several types of sensory input, including vision.

Mutations in any of the genes associated with Leber congenital amaurosis disrupt the development and function of the retina, resulting in early vision loss. Mutations in the CEP290, CRB1, GUCY2D, and RPE65 genes are the most common causes of the disorder, while mutations in the other genes generally account for a smaller percentage of cases. In about 30 percent of all people with Leber congenital amaurosis, the cause of the disorder is unknown.

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