bioRxiv. 2023 Dec 1:2023.11.30.569464. doi: 10.1101/2023.11.30.569464. Preprint.
Somatic mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) mutation accumulation has been observed in individuals with retinal degenerative disorders. To study the effects of aging and mtDNA mutation accumulation in the retina, a Polymerase gamma (POLG) deficiency model, the POLGD257A mutator mice (PolgD257A), was used. POLG is an enzyme responsible for regulating mtDNA replication and repair. Retinas of young and older mice with this mutation were analyzed in vivo and ex vivo to provide new insights into the contribution of age-related mitochondrial dysfunction due to mtDNA damage. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) image analysis revealed a decrease in retinal and photoreceptor thickness starting at 6 months of age in mice with the POLGD257A mutation compared to wild-type (WT) mice. Electroretinography (ERG) testing showed a significant decrease in all recorded responses at 6 months of age. Sections labeled with markers of different types of retinal cells, including cones, rods, and bipolar cells, exhibited decreased labeling starting at 6 months. However, electron microscopy analysis revealed differences in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) mitochondria morphology beginning at 3 months. Interestingly, there was no increase in oxidative stress observed in the retina or RPE of POLGD257A mice. Additionally, POLGD257A RPE exhibited an accelerated rate of autofluorescence cytoplasmic granule formation and accumulation. Mitochondrial markers displayed decreased abundance in protein lysates obtained from retina and RPE samples. These findings suggest that the accumulation of mitochondrial DNA mutations leads to impaired mitochondrial function and accelerated aging, resulting in retinal degeneration.