Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a hereditary blinding disease characterized by gradual photoreceptor death, which lacks a definitive treatment. Here, we demonstrated the effect of 4-phenylbutyric acid (PBA), a chemical chaperon that can suppress endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, in P23H mutant rhodopsin knock-in RP models. In the RP models, constant PBA treatment led to the retention of a greater number of photoreceptors, preserving the inner segment (IS), a mitochondrialand ER-rich part of the photoreceptors. Electroretinography showed that PBA treatment preserved photoreceptor function. At the early point, ER-associated degradation markers, xbp1s, vcp, and derl1, mitochondrial kinetic-related markers, fis1, lc3, and mfn1 and mfn2, as well as key mitochondrial regulators, pgc-1α and tfam, were upregulated in the retina of the models treated with PBA. In vitro analyses showed that PBA upregulated pgc-1α and tfam transcription, leading to an increase in the mitochondrial membrane potential, cytochrome c oxidase activity, and ATP levels. Histone acetylation of the PGC-1α promoter was increased by PBA, indicating that PBA affected the mitochondrial condition through epigenetic changes. Our findings constituted proof of concept for the treatment of ER stress-related RP using PBA and revealed PBA’s neuroprotective effects, paving the way for its future clinical application.
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