Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 July 2008
Delivery of foreign opsin genes to cone photoreceptors using recombinant adeno-associated virus (rAAV) is a potential tool for studying the basic mechanisms underlying cone based vision and for treating vision disorders. We used an in vivo retinal imaging system to monitor, over time, expression of virally-delivered genes targeted to cone photoreceptors in the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus). Gerbils have a well-developed photopic visual system, with 11–14% of their photoreceptors being cones. We used replication deficient serotype 5 rAAV to deliver a gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP). In an effort to direct expression of the gene specifically to either S or M cones, the transgene was under the control of either the human X-chromosome opsin gene regulatory elements, i.e., an enhancer termed the locus control region (LCR) and L promoter, or the human S-opsin promoter. Longitudinal fluorescence images reveal that gene expression is first detectable about 14 days post-injection, reaches a peak after about 3 months, and is observed more than a year post-injection if the initial viral concentration is sufficiently high. The regulatory elements are able to direct expression to a subpopulation of cones while excluding expression in rods and non-photoreceptor retinal cells. When the same viral constructs are used to deliver a human long-wavelength opsin gene to gerbil cones, stimulation of the introduced human photopigment with long-wavelength light produces robust cone responses.