Interstitial retinol-binding protein (IRBP) is a soluble glycoprotein in the interphotoreceptor matrix of bovine, human, monkey, and rat eyes. It may transport retinol between the retinal pigment epithelium and the neural retina. In light-reared Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) and RCS retinal dystrophy gene (rdy)+ rats, the amount of IRBP in the interphotoreceptor matrix increased in corresponding proportion to the amount of total rhodopsin through postnatal day 22 (P22). In the RCS-rdy+ rats, the amount increased slightly after P23. However, in the RCS rats there was a rapid fall in the quantity of IRBP as the photoreceptors degenerated between P23 and P29. No IRBP was detected by immunocytochemistry in rats at P28. The amount of rhodopsin fell more slowly. Although retinas from young RCS and RCS-rdy+ rats were able to synthesize and secrete IRBP, this ability was lost in retinas from older RCS rats (P51, P88) but not their congenic controls. The photoreceptor cells have degenerated at these ages in the RCS animals, and may therefore be the retinal cells responsible for IRBP synthesis. The putative function of IRBP in the extracellular transport of retinoids during the visual cycle is consistent with a defect in retinol transport in the RCS rat reported by others.

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