Phosphatidylserine externalization is an early molecular signature for apoptosis. In many retinal degenerative diseases, photoreceptor neurons die by apoptosis. Here, we report utility of the phosphatidylserine-binding conjugate of Bis(zinc(II)-dipicolylamine (Zn-DPA) with Texas-red (PSVue-550) in transiently labeling apoptotic photoreceptors in living pigmented or albino rats and mice with retinal degeneration. Applying PSVue-550 as eyedrop is non-toxic and eliminates need for intraocular injection. PSVue-550 fluorescence specifically and transiently labeling dying retinal photoreceptors is detectable in anesthetized animals using standard retinal or whole small animal imaging systems. Importantly, prior PSVue-550 eyedrop administration and imaging does not affect repeat testing. Altogether, our results establish PSVue-550 imaging as a completely non-invasive method that provides the opportunity to longitudinally monitor retinal photoreceptor cell death in preclinical studies.
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