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Organ-specific transgenic membrane expression of hen egg lysozyme (HEL) as a "neo-self antigen" has been used in several models to study immunological tolerance. In this study we report the changes which occur in the B10.BR mouse retina when membrane-bound HEL is expressed in photoreceptors under the control of the promoter for interphotoreceptor retinoid binding protein (IRBP, RBP3). On direct clinical examination of the single transgenic (sTg-IRBP:HEL) mouse fundus, a low-level increase in retinal degeneration compared to non-transgenic controls was observed, presenting as drusenoid deposits and occasional small patches of atrophy. On histological examination, there was an overall shortening of outer segments and loss of photoreceptor nuclei in sTg-IRBP:HEL mice, which was more pronounced in the retinal periphery, particularly inferiorly. The fundoscopically observed lesions did not correlate with the photoreceptor shortening/loss but appeared to be located at the level of the retinal pigment epithelium/choriocapillaris layer and were an exaggeration in size and number of similar age-related changes found in wild type (WT) mice. In addition, neither the atrophic lesions nor the photoreceptor shortening were associated with common retinal degeneration genes, nor were they caused by exposure to light damage since mice housed at both high and low ambient light levels had similar degrees of retinal degeneration. Instead, sTg-IRBP:HEL mice expressed reduced levels of soluble retinal IRBP compared to WT mice which were present from postnatal day16 (P16) and preceded development of photoreceptor shortening (onset P21). We propose that insertion of the HEL transgene in the photoreceptor membrane disrupted normal photoreceptor function and led to reduced levels of soluble IRBP and retinal thinning. A similar phenotype has been observed in IRBP deficient mice. Despite the retinal thinning, the amount of HEL expressed in the retina was sufficient to act as an autoantigenic target when the mice were crossed to the HEL T cell receptor Tg mouse, since double transgenic (dTg-IRBP:HEL) mice spontaneously developed a severe uveoretinitis with onset at weaning. We suggest that, although membrane expression of foreign transgene products is likely to modify the structure and function of tissues and cells, the technology provides useful models to investigate mechanisms of antigen-specific immunological tolerance.

Original publication




Journal article


Experimental eye research

Publication Date



Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.