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Ophthalmic Molecular Genetics Section

Current research

This section utilizes a number of different approaches to study inherited visual diseases affecting all parts of the eye.

In one approach to understanding inherited visual diseases we use positional cloning to identify genes important in human inherited diseases. Diseases currently undergoing linkage analysis, gene isolation, or characterization of mutations include retinitis pigmentosa, inherited cataracts, Bietti crystalline dystrophy, and several corneal dystrophies.

In a second approach, we attempt to establish associations between sequence changes in and around candidate genes and specific visual phenotypes. We have applied this type of study primarily to prevalent diseases with a complex inheritance pattern, including age related cataracts, myopia, and glaucoma.

Once a candidate gene has been identified and confirmed, the biochemical and pathophysiological implications of identified mutations are explored both in vitro through recombinant expression and functional characterization of wild type and mutant proteins and in vivo through transgenic expression or knock out of pathological proteins both in cultured cells and model organisms such as the mouse and zebrafish. One group of proteins we have investigated in detail are the lens crystallins, which make up more than 90 percent of the soluble protein of lens and are heavily modified in most cataracts. The effects that specific modifications produce on crystallin structure and other functions such as stability, resistance to damage by ultraviolet light, and formation of macromolecular aggregates are being studied. Examples of other molecules under study include genes implicated in retinal disease, such as CYP4V2, ZNF513, and KCNJ13.

Selected publications

Ma, Z., Piszczek, G., Wingfield, P.T., Sergeev, Y.V., Hejtmancik, J.F. The G18V CRYGS Mutation Associated with Human Cataracts Increases γS-Crystallin Sensitivity to Thermal and Chemical Stress. Biochemistry 2009;48:7334-7341.

Jiao, X., Yang, Z., Yang, X., Chen, Y., Tong, Z., Zhao, C., Zeng, J., Chen, H., Gibbs, D., Sun, X., Li, B., Wakins, W.S., Meyer, C., Wang, X., Kasuga, D., Bedell, M., Pearson, E., Weinreb, R.N., Leske, M.C., Hennis, A., Dewan, A., Nemesure, B., Jorde, L.B., Hoh, J., Hejtmancik, J.F., Zhang, K. Common variants on chromosome 2 and risk of primary open-angle glaucoma in the Afro-Caribbean population of Barbados. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2009;106:17105-17110.

Riazuddin, S.A., Shahzadi, A., Zeitz, C., Ahmed, Z.M., Ayyagari, R., Chavali, V.R., Ponferrada, V.G., Audo, I., Michiels, C., Lancelot, M.E., Nasir, I.A., Zafar, A.U., Khan, S.N., Husnain, T., Jiao, X., Macdonald, I.M., Riazuddin, S., Sieving, P.A., Katsanis, N., Hejtmancik, J.F. A mutation in SLC24A1 implicated in autosomal-recessive congenital stationary night blindness. Am J Hum Genet 2010;87:523-531.

Li, L., Nakaya, N., Chavali, V.R., Ma, Z., Jiao, X., Sieving, P.A., Riazuddin, S., Tomarev, S.I., Ayyagari, R., Riazuddin, S.A., Hejtmancik, J.F. A mutation in ZNF513, a putative regulator of photoreceptor development, causes autosomal-recessive retinitis pigmentosa. Am J Hum Genet 2010;87:400-409.

Chen, J., Ma, Z., Jiao, X., Fariss, R., Kantorow, W.L., Kantorow, M., Pras, E., Frydman, M., Riazuddin, S., Riazuddin, S.A., Hejtmancik, J.F. Mutations in FYCO1 Cause Autosomal-Recessive Congenital Cataracts. Am J Hum Genet 2011;88:827-838.

Khan, S.Y., Vasanth, S., Kabir, F., Gottsch, J.D., Khan, A.O., Chaerkady, R., Lee, M.C., Leitch, C.C., Ma, Z., Laux, J., Villasmil, R., Khan, S.N., Riazuddin, S., Akram, J., Cole, R.N., Talbot, C.C., Pourmand, N., Zaghloul, N.A., Hejtmancik, J.F., Riazuddin, S.A. FOXE3 contributes to Peters anomaly through transcriptional regulation of an autophagy-associated protein termed DNAJB1. Nature communications 2016;7:10953.

Ma, X., Jiao, X., Ma, Z., Hejtmancik, J.F. Polymorphism rs7278468 is associated with Age-related cataract through decreasing transcriptional activity of the CRYAA promoter. Scientific reports 2016;6:23206.

Ma, Z., Yao, W., Chan, C.C., Kannabiran, C., Wawrousek, E., Hejtmancik, J.F. Human betaA3/A1-crystallin splicing mutation causes cataracts by activating the unfolded protein response and inducing apoptosis in differentiating lens fiber cells. Biochim Biophys Acta 2016;1862:1214-1227.

Chen, J., Wang, Q., Cabrera, P.E., Zhong, Z., Sun, W., Jiao, X., Chen, Y., Govindarajan, G., Naeem, M.A., Khan, S.N., Ali, M.H., Assir, M.Z., Rahman, F.U., Qazi, Z.A., Riazuddin, S., Akram, J., Riazuddin, S.A., Hejtmancik, J.F. Molecular Genetic Analysis of Pakistani Families With Autosomal Recessive Congenital Cataracts by Homozygosity Screening. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2017;58:2207-2217.

Jiao, X., Li, A., Jin, Z.B., Wang, X., Iannaccone, A., Traboulsi, E.I., Gorin, M.B., Simonelli, F., Hejtmancik, J.F. Identification and population history of CYP4V2 mutations in patients with Bietti crystalline corneoretinal dystrophy. Eur J Hum Genet 2017.

Li, L., Chen, Y., Jiao, X., Jin, C., Jiang, D., Tanwar, M., Ma, Z., Huang, L., Ma, X., Sun, W., Chen, J., Ma, Y., M'Hamdi, O., Govindarajan, G., Cabrera, P.E., Li, J., Gupta, N., Naeem, M.A., Khan, S.N., Riazuddin, S., Akram, J., Ayyagari, R., Sieving, P.A., Riazuddin, S.A., Hejtmancik, J.F. Homozygosity Mapping and Genetic Analysis of Autosomal Recessive Retinal Dystrophies in 144 Consanguineous Pakistani Families. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2017;58:2218-2238.

Ophthalmic Molecular Genetics Section key staff

Key staff table
Name Title Email Phone
Rongfang Chen Visiting Fellow
Rebecca Clark Postbaccalaureate Fellow 301-496-3577
J. Fielding Hejtmancik, M.D., Ph.D. Senior Investigator 301-496-8300
Huan Hu Visiting Fellow 301-496-6999
Xiaodong Jiao, M.D. Biologist 301-435-2586
Zhiwei Ma, M.D., Ph.D. Staff Scientist 301-594-7345
Yan Ma Research Associate 301-435-2585
Hang Qi Visiting Fellow 301-435-1270
Mohd Hussain Shah, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow
Gaohui Zhou Visiting Fellow

News from this lab

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NEI Researchers Awarded Grants by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation

The Knights Templar Eye Foundation has awarded two NEI scientists grants to research inherited retinal degenerations, diseases that can cause blindness in early childhood.
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NEI charts a clearer future for cataract prevention and treatment

Research funded by the National Eye Institute aims to reverse progression of cataracts—the most common cause of blindness worldwide—or to prevent them from forming altogether.
Leaders from the University of Philippines (UP) and Philippine NIH (PNIH) met with NEI staff in May 2015. From L to R: Dr. Fielding Hejtmancik; Dr. Marie Carmela M. Lapitan, director of research management and translation, PNIH; Dr. Arlene Samaniego, vice chancellor, UP; Dr. Eva Maria Cutiongco-de la Paz, vice chancellor for research and executive director, PNIH; Dr. Belinda Seto; Dr. Carmencita Padilla; Dr. Paul A. Sieving; Dr. Gyan Prakash, Dr. Patricia Cabrera; and Dr. Manuel Datiles.

Dr. Patricia Cabrera: Learning Genetics and Linking NEI to the Philippines

A delegation from the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Philippine National Institutes of Health recently visited NEI on May 21, 2015. It was an opportunity to renew old collaborations and discuss new ones...

Last updated: July 19, 2019