The question of whether the expression of mutant opsin predisposes the retina to light damage was addressed using transgenic mice that express rhodopsin with three point mutations near the N-terminus of the molecule. The mutations involve the substitution of histidine for proline at position 23 (P23H), glycine for valine at position 20 (V20G), and leucine for proline at position 27 (P27L). These mice express equal amounts of mutant and wild-type transcripts, and develop a progressive photoreceptor degeneration that is similar to that seen in human retinitis pigmentosa (RP). The P23H mutation is associated with the most frequently occurring form of human autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (ADRP) in the United States. Transgenic and normal littermates were exposed to illuminance of 300 foot-candles (ft-c) for 24 h, then placed in darkness for either 6 h, 6 days, or 14 days. Histological and biochemical techniques were used to evaluate the outer retina in light-exposed and control animals reared on 12-h light/12-h dark cycle. The results indicate that light exposure accelerates the pathological changes associated with the transgene expression. Compared with transgenic animals reared in ambient cyclic light, retinas from light-exposed mice had a reduced rhodopsin content, fewer photoreceptor cell bodies, and less preservation of retinal structure. Data obtained from normal mice did not differ for the lighting regimens used. These findings suggest that the expression of VPP mutations in the opsin gene predisposes the transgenic photoreceptors to be more susceptible to light damage. The data also suggest that reducing photic exposure may be beneficial to any patient with RP mediated by an opsin mutation.