Optic neuropathies are a group of optic nerve (ON) diseases caused by various insults including glaucoma, inflammation, ischemia, trauma and genetic deficits, which are characterized by retinal ganglion cell (RGC) death and ON degeneration. An increasing number of genes involved in RGC intrinsic signaling have been found to be promising neural repair targets that can potentially be modulated directly by gene therapy, if we can achieve RGC specific gene targeting. To address this challenge, we first used adeno associated virus (AAV)-mediated gene transfer to perform a low throughput in vivo screening in both male and female mouse eyes and identified the mouse γ-synuclein (mSncg) promoter, which specifically and potently sustained transgene expression in mouse RGCs and also works in human RGCs. We further demonstrated that gene therapy that combines AAV-mSncg promoter with CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing can knockdown pro-degenerative genes in RGCs and provide effective neuroprotection in optic neuropathies.
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