J Clin Invest. 2023 May 1;133(9):e163771. doi: 10.1172/JCI163771.
Patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) provide a powerful tool for identifying cellular and molecular mechanisms of disease. Macular telangiectasia type 2 (MacTel) is a rare, late-onset degenerative retinal disease with an extremely heterogeneous genetic architecture, lending itself to the use of iPSCs. Whole-exome sequencing screens and pedigree analyses have identified rare causative mutations that account for less than 5% of cases. Metabolomic surveys of patient populations and GWAS have linked MacTel to decreased circulating levels of serine and elevated levels of neurotoxic 1-deoxysphingolipids (1-dSLs). However, retina-specific, disease-contributing factors have yet to be identified. Here, we used iPSC-differentiated retinal pigmented epithelial (iRPE) cells derived from donors with or without MacTel to screen for novel cell-intrinsic pathological mechanisms. We show that MacTel iRPE cells mimicked the low serine levels observed in serum from patients with MacTel. Through RNA-Seq and gene set enrichment pathway analysis, we determined that MacTel iRPE cells are enriched in cellular stress pathways and dysregulation of central carbon metabolism. Using respirometry and mitochondrial stress testing, we functionally validated that MacTel iRPE cells had a reduction in mitochondrial function that was independent of defects in serine biosynthesis and 1-dSL accumulation. Thus, we identified phenotypes that may constitute alternative disease mechanisms beyond the known serine/sphingolipid pathway.