Retinal dystrophy (Rdy) is an autosomal dominant photoreceptor dysplasia of Abyssinian cats and a model for autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa (ADRP) in man. We have pursued a candidate gene approach in the search for the causal mutation in Rdy. The genes RHO (encoding rhodopsin), ROM1 (encoding the structural retinal outer-membrane protein-1) and PDE6G (encoding the gamma subunit of the visual transduction protein cyclic guanosine monophosphate-phosphodiesterase) were polymerase chain reaction-amplified from normal feline genomic DNA. Leader, coding and 3' untranslated regions of each gene, and parts of introns were sequenced. Single-stranded conformation polymorphism (SSCP) analysis of Rdy-affected and normal cats was used to identify intragenic polymorphisms within ROM1 and PDE6G. DNA sequencing of all three genes in Rdy-affected cats was used to confirm results from SSCP. For both ROM1 and PDE6G polymorphisms identified by SSCP and sequencing showed disconcordance between the polymorphism and the disease phenotype within an Rdy disease pedigree. SSCP analysis of RHO performed across the 5' untranslated region, the entire coding sequence and the intron/exon boundaries in Rdy-affected and control cats failed to identify any intragenic polymorphisms that could be used for linkage analysis. DNA sequencing of these regions showed no differences between Rdy-affected and control cats. Mutations in ROM1 or in PDE6G are not causative of feline Rdy. The absence of potentially pathogenic polymorphisms in sequenced portions of the RHO gene makes it unlikely that a mutation in this gene is the cause of Rdy.