HtrA1 and Protein Folding Stress in the Retinal Pigment Epithelium

Darlene Dartt, PhD
The Schepens Eye Research Institute/Massachusetts Eye and Ear (Boston, MA)
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016
Macular Degeneration
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Northeastern

HtrA1 Is Required for Retinal Pigment Epithelia Survival During Endoplasmic Reticulum Stress


In aging patients with central vision loss, a group of cells in the back of the eye, together known as retinal pigment epithelia (RPE), is specifically injured. The aim of this study is to examine whether RPE injury arises from sustained, irreparable damage to the cell’s protein factories. We predict that patients with changes to a protein called HtrA1 (high temperature requirement serine protease A1) are particularly prone to such damages. We propose that rectifying RPE injury with “chemical chaperones” can benefit these patients, and that this class of drugs can be used as a strategy to manage central vision loss.


The overall goal of this project is to understand the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Specifically, I will test the hypothesis that one of the causes of AMD is a defect in coping with cellular stress.

We discovered that those genes that harbor genetic variants, which are associated with an increased susceptibility of developing AMD, are involved with resolving cellular stress. In the first portion of this project, I will determine the mechanism by which the protein products encoded by these genes participate in resolution of cellular stress. In the second portion of the project, I will determine how the AMD-associated genetic variants compromise the ability to protect cells from cellular stress.

This project is unique because of its focus on relatively understudied clues regarding the pathogenesis of AMD that emerged from genetic studies with human patients. These clues are the presence of genetic variants that are associated with an increased risk of developing AMD. These genetic variants reside in genes that code for proteins, whose functions are likely to contribute to resolution of cellular stress. It is this question that I will address in the studies proposed herein.

The results of the proposed studies will provide novel insights regarding the pathogenesis of AMD. This type of information will enable development of new treatments for AMD patients. Consequently, our work could lead to an increased quality of life for the growing population of individuals who are vulnerable to AMD through age and genetic risk factors.

More Information

This grant was originally awarded to Andrius Kazlauskas, PhD, and transferred to Darlene Dartt, PhD, FARVO at Dr. Kazlauskas’ request when he left the Schepens Eye Institute for another position in February 2015. 

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