Progressive loss of visual function frequently accompanies demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and is hypothesized to be the result of damage to the axons and soma of neurons. Here, we show that dendritic impairment is also involved in these diseases. Deimination, a posttranslational modification, was reduced in the retinal ganglion cell layer of MS patients and in a transgenic mouse model of MS (ND4 mice). Reduced deimination accompanied a decrease in inner retinal function in ND4 mice, indicating loss of vision. Local restoration of deimination dramatically improved retinal function and elongation of neurites in isolated neurons. Further, neurite length was decreased by downregulation of deimination or siRNA knockdown of the export-binding protein REF, a primary target for deimination in these cells. REF localized to dendrites and bound selective mRNAs and translation machinery to promote protein synthesis. Thus, protein deimination and dendritic outgrowth play key roles in visual function and may be a general feature of demyelinating diseases.
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