Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Interdisciplinary Graduate Program



First Thesis Advisor

Claudio Punzo, PhD


Autophagy, Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells, Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells, Retinitis Pigmentosa, TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases


Dissertations, UMMS; Autophagy; Retinal Cone Photoreceptor Cells; Retinal Rod Photoreceptor Cells; Retinitis Pigmentosa; TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases


Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) is an inherited photoreceptor degenerative disease that leads to blindness and affects about 1 in 4000 people worldwide. The disease is predominantly caused by mutations in genes expressed exclusively in the night active rod photoreceptors; however, blindness results from the secondary loss of the day active cone photoreceptors, the mechanism of which remains elusive. Here, we show that the mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) is required to delay the progression of cone death during disease and that constitutive activation of mTORC1 is sufficient to maintain cone function and promote cone survival in RP. Activation of mTORC1 increased expression of genes that promote glucose uptake, retention and utilization, leading to increased NADPH levels; a key metabolite for cones. This protective effect was conserved in two mouse models of RP, indicating that the secondary loss of cones can be delayed by an approach that is independent of the primary mutation in rods. However, since mTORC1 is a negative regulator of autophagy, its constitutive activation led to an unwarranted secondary effect of shortage of amino acids due to incomplete digestion of autophagic cargo, which reduces the efficiency of cone survival over time. Moderate activation of mTORC1, which promotes expression of glycolytic genes, as well as maintains autophagy, provided more sustained cone survival. Together, our work addresses a long-standing question of non-autonomous cone death in RP and presents a novel, mutation-independent approach to extend vision in a disease that remains incurable.



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