Monday, October 12, 2009

Gene therapy restores vision to color-blind monkeys

An Editor's summary in the Oct. 8 Nature describes a remarkable finding, and Shapley discusses the work described in the paper by Mancuso et al. :
It is often assumed that critical periods exist for the development of vision and other neural capabilities and that they end prior to adolescence. For example, it might be expected that gene therapy in adults with congenital vision disorders would be impossible. But experiments in adult spider monkeys who are normally red–green colour blind show that it is possible to add a third photopigment (human opsin) into some of their retinal cells by gene therapy. The monkeys acquire a new dimension of colour vision as a result. Not only does this suggest a possible therapy for a common congenital visual defect in humans (clinical trials are now under way), but also it demonstrates the extreme neuroplasticity of visual processing and points to possible routes by which trichromatic vision evolved.

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