Dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and recessive Stargardt’s disease (STGD1) lead to irreversible blindness in humans. The accumulation of all-trans-retinal (atRAL) induced by chaos in visual cycle is closely associated with retinal atrophy in dry AMD and STGD1, but its critical downstream signaling molecules remain ambiguous. Here, we reported that activation of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2α (eIF2α) by atRAL promoted retinal degeneration and photoreceptor loss through activating c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) signaling-dependent apoptosis and gasdermin E (GSDME)-mediated pyroptosis. We determined that eIF2α activation by atRAL in photoreceptor cells resulted from endoplasmic reticulum (ER) homeostasis disruption caused at least in part by reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, and it activated JNK signaling independent of and dependent on activating transcription factor 4 (ATF4) and the ATF4/transcription factor C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) axis. CHOP overexpression induced apoptosis of atRAL-loaded photoreceptor cells through activating JNK signaling rather than inhibiting the expression of anti-apoptotic gene Bcl2. JNK activation by eIF2α facilitated photoreceptor cell apoptosis caused by atRAL via caspase-3 activation and DNA damage. Additionally, we demonstrated that eIF2α was activated in neural retina of light-exposed Abca4Rdh8 mice, a model that shows severe defects in atRAL clearance and displays primary features of human dry AMD and STGD1. Of note, inhibition of eIF2α activation by salubrinal effectively ameliorated retinal degeneration and photoreceptor apoptosis in Abca4Rdh8 mice upon light exposure. The results of this study suggest that eIF2α is an important target to develop drug therapies for the treatment of dry AMD and STGD1.
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