Photo bleaching leaves the rhodopsin insensitive to light until the all trans retinaldehyde is converted, or "isomerized," back into 11 cis retinaldehyde, which completes the visual cycle. Scientists have for two decades been attempting to identify the retinoid isomerase enzyme that catalyzes this regeneration of 11 cis retinaldehyde. Scientists have also been stumped by the function of the Rpe65 protein
Working with Travis at the Jules Stein Eye Institute, Dr. Minghao Jin, visiting assistant researcher in ophthalmology, performed an expression screen in cultured human cells, looking for a gene that caused these cells to convert vitamin A into 11 cis retinol.
The researchers are now studying the effects on retinoid isomerase activity of specific disease causing mutations in the RPE65 gene, which should provide more data on the cause of Leber congenital amaurosis and on how the Rpe65 protein works. The researchers are also examining the function of other proteins that work closely with Rpe65. Mutations in the genes for these interacting proteins are linked to other forms of human blindness.
"These results settle the long standing mystery about the identity of the retinoid isomerase," Travis said. "Scientists have been searching for this enzyme for almost 20 years. Our results also explain why finding this enzyme has been so difficult, until now."
Other researchers on this project besides Travis and Jin are Hui Sun, assistant professor of physiology at UCLA, and Songhua Li and Walid Moghrabi, staff research associates at the Jules Stein Eye Institute.