Konstantin Petrukhin, PhD

  • Professor of Ophthalmic Science (in Ophthalmology)
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Academic Appointments

  • Professor of Ophthalmic Science (in Ophthalmology)


Pharmacological inhibition of lipofuscin accumulation in the retina - Experimental and clinical imaging data indicate that high levels of lipofuscin induce degeneration of RPE and the adjacent photoreceptors in atrophic AMD retinas. In addition to AMD, dramatic accumulation of lipofuscin is the hallmark of Stargardt’s disease (STGD), an inherited form of juvenile-onset macular degeneration. The major cytotoxic component of RPE lipofuscin is a pyridinium bisretinoid A2E. A2E formation occurs in the retina in a non-enzymatic manner and can be considered a by-product of a properly functioning visual cycle. Given the established cytotoxic affects of A2E on RPE and photoreceptors, inhibition of A2E formation could lead to delay in visual loss in patients with dry AMD and STGD. Partial visual cycle inhibition with small molecule drugs may reduce the formation of A2E in the retina and prolong RPE and photoreceptor survival in patients with dry AMD and STGD. Using the grant support form the new NIH initiative, the Blueprint Neurotherapeutics Network, Dr. Petrukhin’s lab is working on optimization of a non-retinoid lead compound that acts as an inhibitor of bisretinoid formation in the retina. In addition, we are conducting evaluation of novel drug targets for pharmacological inhibition of retinal lipofuscinogenesis. 

Photoreceptor protection - Atrophic AMD is a slowly developing neurodegenerative disease in which photoreceptors in the central part of the retina are lost due to apoptosis. Delaying or preventing the loss of photoreceptor cells in the macula would predictably lead to delay in AMD progression. Nuclear receptors comprise a family of transcription factors involved in regulation of a variety of biological processes including cell survival. Ten percent of the most widely used drugs are nuclear receptors modulators indicating the importance of this group of ligand-dependent transcription regulators as drug targets. NR2E3, also known as PNR and RNR, is an orphan nuclear receptor expressed exclusively in photoreceptor cells of the adult and developing retina. Physiological ligands for NR2E3 remain to be identified. Mutations in NR2E3 have been associated with several forms of retinal degeneration in human patients. It has been suggested that in addition to its role in retinal development, NR2E3 may be involved in photoreceptor maintenance in the adult retina. The phenotype of the late-onset, slowly progressing retinal degeneration in rd7 mice, which harbor a spontaneous deletion within the Nr2e3 gene, seems to be consistent with the dual function of this nuclear receptor in retinal development and photoreceptor maintenance. The expression profiling experiments in Dr. Petrukhin’s laboratory suggest that NR2E3 directly regulates the genes that may be involved in protection of the retina from oxidative stress. Using NIH funding, Dr. Petrukhin’s laboratory is conducting the screen for synthetic NR2E3 ligands that may potentially become a treatment for atrophic AMD. 

Downregulation of gliotic response in the retina - Gliotic response in the retina is a sequala of many retinal diseases including atrophic AMD. Muller glial cells are responsible for the extraordinary range of functions within the retina such as mediation of photoreceptor survival, synthesis and renewal of visual pigment, neurotransmitter recycling, removal, and protection of neurons from potassium toxicity. Given the fact that Muller cells are significantly involved in the processes of retinal dystrophy and taking into account examples of successful neuroprotection in CNS by downregulation of reactive gliosis, it is plausible that reduction of Muller cell gliosis may represent a new therapeutic area in atrophic AMD. Gliotic response in Muller cells is triggered in part by impaired retinal K+ homeostasis associated with downregulation of Kir4.1 channels responsible for release of potassium from Muller cells into circulation. Reduced ability of damaged retina to buffer potassium elevates intra-retinal K+  level and induces Muller cell swelling which was shown to stimulate dedifferentiation and proliferation of Muller cells. A fluorenone drug known as DPOFA, (R)-(+)-(5,6-dichloro 2,3,9,9a-tetrahydro 3-oxo-9a-propyl-1H-fluoren-7-yl)oxy]acetic acid, was shown to be highly effective in inhibiting K+-induced swelling in CNS astrocytes. The drug demonstrated significant efficacy in preventing mortality in animal models of concussive brain injury and was systemically administered to humans in Phase I clinical trials for trauma-induced brain edema. As gliotic response in retinal Muller cells and CNS astrocytes may have overlapping, if not identical, mechanisms we hypothesize that DPOFA (or its derivatives) may be used as an anti-gliotic therapy in patients with dry AMD. Dr. Petrukhin’s laboratory is performing evaluation of DPOFA and its analogs in in vitro and in vivo systems modeling gliotic response in the retina in order to develop rationale for the use of fluorenone drugs as a treatment for atrophic AMD.


Nicoleta Dobri, PhD – Postdoctoral Research Scientist
Boglarka Racz, PhD – Postdoctoral Research Scientist
Pavel Izerovich, PhD – Associate Research Scientist
Alan Zhou – Research Technician
Patricia Murphy – Senior Secretary

Sarah Zimov, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Research Scientist
Fabiana Fonseca, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Research Scientist
Igor Chernov, Ph.D., Visiting Scientist
Cornelius Saunders, Student Intern
Qiong Qin, M.D., Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Scientist

Research Interests

  • Identification of small molecule treatments for dry AMD
  • Inhibition of reactive gliosis in retinal Muller cells
  • Reduction of accumulation of toxic pyridinium bisretinoids in the RPE
  • Stimulation of photoreceptor survival

Selected Publications

  • Racz B, Varadi A, Kong J, Allikmets R, Pearson PG, Johnson G, Cioffi CL, Petrukhin K. A non-retinoid antagonist of Retinol-Binding Protein 4 rescues phenotype in a model of Stargardt disease without inhibiting the visual cycle. J Biol Chem, 2018, 293:11574-11588
  • Cioffi CL, Johnson G, Petrukhin K. Recent Developments in Agents for the Treatment of Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Stargardt Disease. Med. Chem. Rev. 2016, 61: 261-280
  • Cioffi CL, Racz B, Freeman EE, Conlon MP, Chen P, Stafford DG, Schwarz DM, Zhu L, Kitchen DB, Barnes KD, Dobri N, Michelotti E, Cywin CL, Martin WH, Pearson PG, Johnson G, Petrukhin K. Bicyclic [3.3.0]-Octahydrocyclopenta[c]pyrrolo Antagonists of Retinol Binding Protein 4: Potential Treatment of Atrophic Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Stargardt Disease. J. Med. Chem. 2015, 58: 5863-5888
  • Cioffi CL, Dobri N, Freeman EE, Conlon MP, Chen P, Stafford DG, Schwarz DM, Golden KC, Zhu L, Kitchen DB, Barnes KD, Racz B, Qin Q, Michelotti E, Cywin CL, Martin WH, Pearson PG, Johnson G, Petrukhin K. Design, Synthesis, and Evaluation of Nonretinoid Retinol Binding Protein 4 Antagonists for the Potential Treatment of Atrophic Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Stargardt Disease. J. Med. Chem. 2014, 57: 7731−7757
  • Petrukhin K. Pharmacological inhibition of lipofuscin accumulation in the retina as a therapeutic strategy for dry AMD treatment. Drug Discovery Today: Therapeutic Strategies. 2013, 10: e11-e20
  • Dobri N, Qin Q, Kong J, Yamamoto K, Liu Z, Moiseyev G, Ma JX, Allikmets R, Sparrow JR, Petrukhin K. A1120, a non-retinoid RBP4 antagonist, inhibits formation of cytotoxic bisretinoids in the animal model of enhanced retinal lipofuscinogenesis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2013, 7:85-95
  • Qin Q, Knapinska A, Dobri N, Madoux F, Chase P, Hodder P, Petrukhin K. In pursuit of synthetic modulators for the orphan retina-specific nuclear receptor NR2E3. J. of Ocular Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2013, 29:298-309.
  • Webber AL, Hodor P, Thut CJ, Vogt TF, Zhang T, Holder DJ, Petrukhin K. Dual role of Nr2e3 in photoreceptor development and maintenance. Exp. EyeRres. 2008, 87:35-48
  • Petrukhin K New therapeutic targets in atrophic age-related macular degeneration. Expert Opin. Ther. Targets. 2007, 11: 625-639
  • Kapitskaya M, Cunningham ME, Lacson R, Kornienko O, Bednar B, Petrukhin K. Development of the High Throughput Screening Assay for Identification of Agonists of an Orphan Nuclear Receptor. Assay and Drug Development Technologies. 2006, 4: 253-262
  • Raz-Prag D, Vasireddy V, Farris RN, Majchzrak S, Mandal MNA, Bush RA, Webber AL, Salem N, Ayyagari R, Petrukhin K, Sieving PA. Haploinsufficiency is Not the Key Mechanism of Pathogenesis in a Heterozygous Elovl4 Knockout Mouse Model of STGD3. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 2006, 47:3603-3611
  • Zhang K, Kniazeva M, Han M, Li W, Yu Z, Yang Z, Li Y, Metzker ML, Allikmets R, Zack DJ, Kakuk LE, Lagali PS, Wong PW, MacDonald IM, Sieving PA, Figueroa D, Austin CP, Gould RJ, Ayyagari R, Petrukhin K. A five base-pair deletion in ELOVL4 is associated with two related forms of autosomal dominant macular dystrophy. Nature Genetics 2001, 27: 89-93
  • Marmorstein AD, Marmorstein LY, Rayborn M, Wang X, Hollyfield JG, Petrukhin K. Bestrophin, the product of the Best vitelliform macular dystrophy gene (VMD2), localizes to the basolateral plasma membrane of the retinal pigment epithelium. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000, 97: 12758-63.
  • Petrukhin K, Koisti MJ, Bakall B, Li W, Xie G, Marknell T, Sandgren O, Forsman K, Holmgren G, Andreasson S, Vujic M, Bergen AA, McGarty-Dugan V, Figueroa D, Austin CP, Metzker ML, Caskey CT, Wadelius C Identification of the gene responsible for Best macular dystrophy. Nature Genetics 1998;19: 241-7
  • Shah A.B., Chernov I., Zhang H.T B M Ross, K Das, S Lutsenko, E Parano, L Pavone, O Evgrafov, I A Ivanova-Smolenskaya, G Annerén, K Westermark, F H Urrutia, G K Penchaszadeh, I Sternlieb, I H Scheinberg, T C Gilliam, and Petrukhin K. Identification and analysis of mutations in the Wilson disease gene (ATP7B): population frequencies, genotype-phenotype correlations and functional analyses. Am. J. Hum. Genet., 1997, 61: 317-328.
  • Petrukhin K., Fischer S,G., Pirastu M., Tanzi R.E., Chernov,I., Devoto M., Brzustowitcz L., Cayanis E., Vitale E., Russo J.J., Matseoane D., Boukhgalter B., Wasco W., Figus A.L., Loudianos J., Cao A., Sternlierb I., Evgrafov O., Parano E., Pavone L., Warburton D., Ott J., Penchaszadeh G., Scheinberg I.H., and Gilliam T.C. Mapping, cloning and genetic characterization of the region containing the Wilson disease gene. Nature Genetics, 1993, 5: 338-343.
  • Tanzi R.E., Petrukhin K., Chernov I., Pellequer J.L., Wasco W., Ross B., Romano D.M., Parano E., Pavone L., Brzustowicz L.M., Devoto M., Peppercorn J., Bush A.I., Sternlieb I., Pirastu M., Gusella J.F., Evgrafov O., Penchaszadeh G.K., Honig B., Edelman I.S., Soares M.B., Scheinberg I.H., and Gilliam T.C. The Wilson disease gene is a copper transporting ATPase with homology to the Menkes disease gene. Nature Genetics, 1993, 5: 344-350