Kleinlogel S, Vogl C, Jeschke M, Neef J, Moser T
Physiol Rev. 2020 Oct 1;100(4):1467-1525.
Impairments of vision and hearing are highly prevalent conditions limiting the quality of life and presenting a major socioeconomic burden. For a long time, retinal and cochlear disorders have remained intractable for causal therapies, with sensory rehabilitation limited to glasses, hearing aids, and electrical cochlear or retinal implants. Recently, the application of gene therapy and optogenetics to eye and ear has generated hope for a fundamental improvement of vision and hearing restoration. To date, one gene therapy for the restoration of vision has been approved, and ongoing clinical trials will broaden its application including gene replacement, genome editing, and regenerative approaches. Moreover, optogenetics, i.e., controlling the activity of cells by light, offers a more general alternative strategy. Over little more than a decade, optogenetic approaches have been developed and applied to better understand the function of biological systems, while protein engineers have identified and designed new opsin variants with desired physiological features. Considering potential clinical applications of optogenetics, the spotlight is on the sensory systems, particularly the eye and ear. Multiple efforts have been undertaken to restore lost or hampered function in the eye and ear. Optogenetic stimulation promises to overcome fundamental shortcomings of electrical stimulation, namely, poor spatial resolution and cellular specificity, and accordingly to deliver more detailed sensory information. This review aims to provide a comprehensive reference on current gene therapeutic and optogenetic research relevant to the restoration of hearing and vision. We will introduce gene-therapeutic approaches and discuss the biotechnological and optoelectronic aspects of optogenetic hearing and vision restoration.