PURPOSE. To evaluate the neuroprotective effects of adenoassociated virus delivery of XIAP in N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (MNU)-induced retinal degeneration in Sprague-Dawley rats. METHODS. Sprague-Dawley rats were injected subretinally with recombinant adenoassociated virus (rAAV) encoding either XIAP or green fluorescent protein (GFP; injection control). Six weeks after injection, the animals received an intraperitoneal injection of MNU, a DNA methylating agent, at a dose of 60 mg/kg. Electroretinograms (ERGs) were recorded at 0, 24, 48 and 72 hours and 1 week after MNU. The rats were killed after the ERG was performed and were perfused with 4% paraformaldehyde. Eyes were then enucleated and embedded for cryosectioning. Eye sections were analyzed by TUNEL and histologic techniques. Real-time PCR and Western analysis were performed to confirm the overexpression of XIAP in injected eyes. RESULTS. Real-time PCR and Western analysis confirmed the overexpression of XIAP in virus-injected eyes in comparison to uninjected control eyes. At 24 hours after MNU injection, fewer cells had undergone apoptosis in the XIAP-treated eyes in comparison with GFP-injected or uninjected eyes. Hematoxylin and eosin staining revealed that the uninjected and GFP-injected photoreceptors were destroyed by 72 hours after injection of MNU, whereas the AAV-XIAP-injected eyes showed structural protection of the photoreceptors at all time points throughout the 1-week sampling period. ERGs showed functional protection up to 1 week after MNU injection in the AAV-XIAP-injected eye, whereas no response was observed in the control eye. CONCLUSIONS. The results suggest that XIAP is protective against this potent chemotoxic agent and holds promise as a therapeutic agent in gene therapy approaches to treating retinitis pigmentosa.