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    Short exposure to photo-oxidative damage triggers molecular signals indicative of early retinal degeneration

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    IntroductionAge-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the developed world, currently affecting over 350 billion people globally. For the most prevalent late-stage form of this disease, atrophic AMD, there are no available prevention strategies or treatments, in part due to inherent difficulties in early-stage diagnosis. Photo-oxidative damage is a well-established model for studying inflammatory and cell death features that occur in late-stage atrophic AMD, however to date has not been investigated as a potential model for studying early features of disease onset. Therefore, in this study we aimed to determine if short exposure to photo-oxidative damage could be used to induce early retinal molecular changes and advance this as a potential model for studying early-stage AMD.MethodsC57BL/6J mice were exposed to 1, 3, 6, 12, or 24h photo-oxidative damage (PD) using 100k lux bright white light. Mice were compared to dim-reared (DR) healthy controls as well as mice which had undergone long periods of photo-oxidative damage (3d and 5d-PD) as known timepoints for inducing late-stage retinal degeneration pathologies. Cell death and retinal inflammation were measured using immunohistochemistry and qRT-PCR. To identify retinal molecular changes, retinal lysates were sent for RNA sequencing, following which bioinformatics analyses including differential expression and pathway analyses were performed. Finally, to investigate modulations in gene regulation as a consequence of degeneration, microRNA (miRNA) expression patterns were quantified using qRT-PCR and visualized using in situ hybridization.ResultsShort exposure to photo-oxidative damage (1-24h-PD) induced early molecular changes in the retina, with progressive downregulation of homeostatic pathways including metabolism, transport and phototransduction observed across this time-course. Inflammatory pathway upregulation was observed from 3h-PD, preceding observable levels of microglia/macrophage activation which was noted from 6h-PD, as well as significant photoreceptor row loss from 24h-PD. Further rapid and dynamic movement of inflammatory regulator miRNA, miR-124-3p and miR-155-5p, was visualized in the retina in response to degeneration.ConclusionThese results support the use of short exposure to photo-oxidative damage as a model of early AMD and suggest that early inflammatory changes in the retina may contribute to pathological features of AMD progression including immune cell activation and photoreceptor cell death. We suggest that early intervention of these inflammatory pathways by targeting miRNA such as miR-124-3p and miR-155-5p or their target genes may prevent progression into late-stage pathology