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1.  Age and disease-related structural changes in the retinal pigment epithelium 
As the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) ages, a number of structural changes occur, including loss of melanin granules, increase in the density of residual bodies, accumulation of lipofuscin, accumulation of basal deposits on or within Bruch’s membrane, formation of drusen (between the basal lamina of the RPE and the inner collagenous layer of Bruch’s membrane), thickening of Bruch’s membrane, microvilli atrophy and disorganization of the basal infoldings. Although these changes are well known, the basic mechanisms involved in them are frequently poorly understood. These age-related changes progress slowly and vary in severity in different individuals. These changes are also found in age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a late onset disease that severely impacts the RPE, but they are much more pronounced than during normal aging. However, the changes in AMD lead to severe loss of vision. Given the many supporting functions which the RPE serves for the retina, it is important to decipher the age-related changes in this epithelium in order to understand age-related changes in vision.
PMCID: PMC2693982  PMID: 19668732
retinal pigment epithelium; aging; age-related macular degeneration (AMD); ocular disorders; retinal disease
2.  Documentation of Intraretinal Retinal Pigment Epithelium Migration via High Speed Ultrahigh Resolution Optical Coherence Tomography 
Ophthalmology  2010;118(4):687-693.
To describe the features of intraretinal retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) migration documented on a prototype spectral domain high speed, ultrahigh resolution optical coherence tomography (OCT) device in a group of patients with early to intermediate dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD). To correlate intraretinal RPE migration on OCT to RPE pigment clumping on fundus photographs.
Retrospective, non-comparative, non-interventional case series.
Fifty-five eyes of 44 patients seen at the New England Eye Center between December 2007 and June 2008 with early to intermediate dry AMD.
3D OCT scan sets from all patients were analyzed for presence of intraretinal RPE migration, defined as small discreet hyper-reflective and highly-backscattering lesions within the neurosensory retina. Fundus photographs were also analyzed to determine the presence of RPE pigment clumping, defined as black-colored, often spiculated areas of pigment clumping within the macula. OCT en face images were correlated with fundus photographs to demonstrate correspondence of intraretinal RPE migration on OCT and RPE clumping on fundus photo.
Drusen, Dry AMD, intraretinal RPE migration, RPE pigment clumping.
54.5% of eyes (61.4% of patients) demonstrated intraretinal RPE migration on OCT scans. 56.4% of the fundus photographs demonstrated RPE pigment clumping. All eyes with intraretinal RPE migration on OCT had corresponding RPE pigment clumping on fundus photographs. RPE pigment migrated most frequently into the outer nuclear layer (66.7% of eyes) and less frequently into more anterior retinal layers. Intraretinal RPE migration mainly occurred above areas of drusen (73.3% of eyes).
The appearance of intraretinal RPE migration on OCT is a common occurrence in early to intermediate dry AMD, occurring in 54.5% of eyes or 61.4% of patients. The area of intraretinal RPE migration on OCT always correlated to areas of pigment clumping on fundus photography. Conversely, all but one eye with RPE pigment clumping on fundus photography also had areas of intraretinal RPE migration on OCT. The high incidence of intraretinal RPE migration observed above areas of drusen suggests that drusen may play physical and catalytic roles in facilitating intraretinal RPE migration in dry AMD patients.
PMCID: PMC3070873  PMID: 21093923
3.  Translocation of the retinal pigment epithelium and formation of sub-retinal pigment epithelium deposit induced by subretinal deposit 
Molecular Vision  2007;13:873-880.
A cardinal pathological feature of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the deposition of extracellular material between the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and Bruch's membrane, pathologically described as sub-RPE deposits. Both the presence and local organization of these deposits contribute to the clinical manifestations of AMD, including localized deposits clinically recognized as drusen. The biogenesis of sub-RPE deposits remains elusive. This work explores the pathological processes of sub-RPE deposit formation.
Matrigel was injected to the subretinal space of rats to create an amorphous deposit. Tissue sections were examined by light or confocal microscopy.
In the presence of the subretinal deposit of Matrigel, RPE cells leave Bruch's membrane to migrate toward photoreceptors and then form a new layer between the deposit and photoreceptors, resulting in RPE translocation. The new RPE layer displaces the deposit to the sub-RPE location and therefore it becomes a sub-RPE deposit. The RPE mobilization requires the presence of photoreceptors. Bruch's membrane devoid of RPE attachment becomes vulnerable to invasion by new blood vessels from the choroid.
Our work supports a novel model of sub-RPE deposit formation in which excessive material first accumulates in the subretinal space, disrupting the physical contact between RPE cells and photoreceptors. To restore the contact, RPE cells migrate toward photoreceptors and form a new layer. The subretinal material is consequently displaced to the sub-RPE location and becomes sub-RPE deposit. Our data also provide evidence that the presence of sub-RPE deposit is sufficient to induce choroidal neovascularization to penetrate Bruch's membrane.
PMCID: PMC2770204  PMID: 17615538
4.  Topographic and age-related changes of the retinal epithelium and Bruch’s membrane of rhesus monkeys 
To examine structural differences in the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) and Bruch’s membrane of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) as a function of topography and age.
The retinas of two old (24 and 26 years old) and two young (1 and 6 years old) female monkeys were examined by light, fluorescence and electron microscopy at the macula, equator and ora serrata.
All monkeys lacked fluorescence and lipofuscin granules in the RPE at the ora serrata where photoreceptors are absent. The equator and macula showed intense fluorescence and many lipofuscin granules in the RPE of the old but not the young monkeys. At the ora, the RPE contained many dense round melanin granules throughout the cell. At the equator and macula, melanin granules were more apical, less frequent and often elongated. Mitochondria were clustered at the basal side of the RPE cell near infolds of the plasma membrane. Both mitochondria and infolds tended to increase toward the macula. In all regions, the basal lamina of the RPE did not penetrate the extracellular space adjacent to infolds. The elastin layer of Bruch’s membrane was wide at the ora and equator and thin at the macula. In the old monkeys, drusen were found at all retinal regions between the basal lamina and the internal collagen layer of Bruch’s membrane. They were often membrane bound with a basal lamina and contained material resembling structures in the RPE. Severe drusenoid-like degeneration was found at the ora serrata of the oldest monkey.
Lack of fluorescence and lipofuscin in the RPE at the ora serrata, where photoreceptors are absent, confirms that RPE fluorescence depends on outer segment phagocytosis. Mitochondrial clustering indicates that the basal side of the RPE cell uses most energy and this becomes maximal at the macula. The presence of age-related degenerative changes and drusen at all retinal locations in the older monkeys, even at the ora where RPE lipofuscin was absent, indicates that these processes are not dependent on local lipofuscin accumulation. Therefore lipofuscin toxicity may not be the sole cause of age-related RPE degeneration.
PMCID: PMC2878393  PMID: 20195625
5.  Retinal Ultrastructure of Murine Models of Dry Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) 
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most prevalent form of irreversible blindness worldwide in the elderly population. The pathology of dry AMD consists of degeneration of photoreceptors and the RPE, lipofuscin (A2E) accumulation, and drusen formation. Mice have been widely used for generating models that simulate human AMD features for investigating the pathogenesis, treatment and prevention of the disease. Although the mouse has no macula, focal atrophy of photorecptors and RPE, lipofuscin accumulation, and increased A2E can develop in aged mouse eyes. However, drusen are rarely seen in mice because of their simpler Bruch’s membrane and different process of lipofuscin extrusion compared with humans. Thus, analyzing basal deposits at the ultrastructural level and understanding the ultrastructural pathologic differences between various mouse AMD models are critical to comprehending the significance of research findings and response to possible therapeutic options for dry AMD.
Based on the multifactorial pathogenesis of AMD, murine dry AMD models can be classified into three groups. First, genetically engineered mice that target genes related to juvenile macular dystrophies are the most common models, and they include abcr−/− (Stargardt disease), transgenic ELOVL4 (Stargardt-3 dominant inheritary disease), Efemp1R345W/R345W (Doyne honeycomb retinal dystrophy), and Timp3S156C/S156C (Sorsby fundus dystrophy) mice. Other murine models target genes relevant to AMD, including inflammatory genes such as Cfh−/−, Ccl2−/−, Ccr2−/−, Cx3cr1−/−, and Ccl2−/−/cx3cr1−/−, oxidative stress associated genes such as Sod1−/− and Sod2 knockdown, metabolic pathway genes such as neprilysin −/− (amyloid β), transgenic mcd/mcd (cathepsin D), Cp−/−/Heph−/Y (ferroxidase ceruloplasmin/hepaestin, iron metabolism), and transgenic ApoE4 on high fat and high cholesterol diet (lipid metabolism). Second, mice have also been immunologically manipulated by immunization with carboxyethylpyrrole (CEP), an oxidative fragment of DHA found in drusen, and found to present with dry AMD features. Third, natural mouse strains such as arrd2/arrd2 (Mdm gene mutation) and the senescence accelerated mice (SAM) spontaneously develop features of dry AMD like photoreceptor atrophy and thickening of Bruch’s membrane.
All the aforementioned models develop retinal lesions with various features that simulate dry AMD lesions: focal photoreceptor degeneration, abnormal RPE with increased lipofuscin, basal infolding, decreased melanosomes and degeneration. However, Bruch’s membrane changes are less common. Most mice develop retinal lesions at an older age (6–24 months, depending on the models), while the Ccl2−/−/cx3cr1−/− mice develop lesions by 4–6 weeks. Although murine models present various degrees of retinal and/or RPE degeneration, classical drusen is extremely rare. Using electron microscopy, small drusenoid deposits are found between RPE and Bruch’s membrane in a few models including Efemp1 R345W/R345W, Ccl2−/−/cx3cr1−/−, neprilysin −/−, transgenic mcd/mcd, and ApoE4 transgenic mice on a high fat diet. High A2E levels are measured in the retinas of abcr−/−, transgenic ELOVL4, and Ccl2−/−/cx3cr1−/− mice. In summary, murine models provide useful tools for studying AMD pathogenesis and evaluating novel therapies for this disease. This review compares the major dry AMD murine models and discusses retinal pathology at the ultrastructural level.
PMCID: PMC2854213  PMID: 20206286
Age-related macular degeneration; AMD; dry; mouse model; retina; ultrastructure; pathology
6.  Cyclic intensive light exposure induces retinal lesions similar to age-related macular degeneration in APPswe/PS1 bigenic mice 
BMC Neuroscience  2012;13:34.
Intensive light exposure and beta-amyloid (Aβ) aggregates have been known as a risk factor for macular degeneration and an important component in the pathologic drusen structure involved in this disorder, respectively. However, it is unknown whether Aβ deposition mediates or exacerbates light exposure-induced pathogenesis of macular degeneration. Several studies including the one from us already showed accumulation of Aβ deposits in the retina in Alzheimer's transgenic mice. Using histopathological analysis combined with electroretinographic functional assessment, we investigated the effects of cyclic intensive light exposure (CILE) on the architecture of retina and related function in the APPswe/PS1bigenic mouse.
Histopathological analysis has found significant loss of outer nuclear layer/photoreceptor outer segment and outer plexiform layer along with abnormal hypo- and hyper-pigmentation in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), remarkable choroidal neovascularization (CNV), and exaggerated neuroinflammatory responses in the outer retina of APPswe/PS1 bigenic mice following cyclic intensive light exposure (CILE), whereas controls remained little change contrasted with age-matched non-transgenic littermates. CILE-induced degenerative changes in RPE are further confirmed by transmission electron microcopy and manifest as formation of basal laminar deposits, irregular thickening of Bruch's membrane (BrM), deposition of outer collagenous layer (OCL) in the subretinal space, and vacuolation in the RPE. Immunofluorescence microscopy reveals drusenoid Aβ deposits in RPE as well as neovessels attached which are associated with disruption of RPE integrity and provoked neuroinflammatory response as indicated by markedly increased retinal infiltration of microglia. Moreover, both immunohistochemistry and Western blots detect an induction of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in RPE, which corroborates increased CNV in the outer retina in the bigenic mice challenged by CILE.
Our findings demonstrate that degenerative changes in the outer retina in the APPswe/PS1 bigenic mouse induced by CILE are consistent with these in AMD. These results suggest that an Alzheimer's transgenic animal model with accumulation of Aβ deposits might be an alternative animal model for AMD, if combined with other confounding factors such as intensive light exposure for AMD.
PMCID: PMC3338397  PMID: 22443196
7.  Engineering a Blood-Retinal Barrier With Human Embryonic Stem Cell-Derived Retinal Pigment Epithelium: Transcriptome and Functional Analysis 
To develop a culture model for drug development and tissue-engineering human retina, retinal pigment epithelia (RPE) were derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs), and their barrier properties were compared with those of a well-regarded model of RPE function, human fetal RPE isolated from 16-week-gestation fetuses (hfRPE). It was found that hESC-derived RPE is highly differentiated but may be less mature than RPE isolated from 16-week fetuses. The study also identified a panel of genes to monitor further maturation of RPE.
Retinal degenerations are a major cause of impaired vision in the elderly. Degenerations originate in either photoreceptors or the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). RPE forms the outer blood-retinal barrier and functions intimately with photoreceptors. Animal models and cultures of RPE are commonly used to screen potential pharmaceuticals or explore RPE replacement therapy, but human RPE differs from that of other species. Human RPE forms a barrier using tight junctions composed of a unique set of claudins, proteins that determine the permeability and selectivity of tight junctions. Human adult RPE fails to replicate these properties in vitro. To develop a culture model for drug development and tissue-engineering human retina, RPE were derived from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Barrier properties of RPE derived from the H1 and H9 hESC lines were compared with a well-regarded model of RPE function, human fetal RPE isolated from 16-week-gestation fetuses (hfRPE). A serum-free medium (SFM-1) that enhanced the redifferentiation of hfRPE in culture also furthered the maturation of hESC-derived RPE. In SFM-1, the composition, selectivity, and permeability of tight junctions were similar to those of hfRPE. Comparison of the transcriptomes by RNA sequencing and quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction revealed a high correlation between the hESCs and hfRPE, but there were notable differences in the expression of adhesion junction and membrane transport genes. These data indicated that hESC-derived RPE is highly differentiated but may be less mature than RPE isolated from 16-week fetuses. The study identified a panel of genes to monitor the maturation of RPE.
PMCID: PMC3697821  PMID: 23734062
Retinal pigmented epithelium; Blood-retinal barrier; Claudins; Embryonic stem cells
8.  The potential role of amyloid β in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2005;115(10):2793-2800.
Drusen are extracellular deposits that lie beneath the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and are the earliest signs of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Recent proteome analysis demonstrated that amyloid β (Aβ) deposition was specific to drusen from eyes with AMD. To work toward a molecular understanding of the development of AMD from drusen, we investigated the effect of Aβ on cultured human RPE cells as well as ocular findings in neprilysin gene–disrupted mice, which leads to an increased deposition Aβ. The results showed that Aβ treatment induced a marked increase in VEGF as well as a marked decrease in pigment epithelium-derived factor (PEDF). Conditioned media from Aβ-exposed RPE cells caused a dramatic increase in tubular formation by human umbilical vein endothelial cells. Light microscopy of senescent neprilysin gene–disrupted mice showed an increased number of degenerated RPE cells with vacuoles. Electron microscopy revealed basal laminar and linear deposits beneath the RPE layer, but we did not observe choroidal neovascularization (CNV). The present study demonstrates that Aβ accumulation affects the balance between VEGF and PEDF in the RPE, and an accumulation of Aβ reproduces features characteristic of human AMD, such as RPE atrophy and basal deposit formation. Some other factors, such as breakdown of integrity of Bruch membrane, might be necessary to induce CNV of AMD.
PMCID: PMC1201663  PMID: 16167083
9.  Drusen Characterization with Multimodal Imaging 
Retina (Philadelphia, Pa.)  2010;30(9):1441-1454.
Multimodal imaging findings and histological demonstration of soft drusen, cuticular drusen, and subretinal drusenoid deposits provided information used to develop a model explaining their imaging characteristics.
To characterize the known appearance of cuticular drusen, subretinal drusenoid deposits (reticular pseudodrusen), and soft drusen as revealed by multimodal fundus imaging; to create an explanatory model that accounts for these observations.
Reported color, fluorescein angiographic, autofluorescence, and spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) images of patients with cuticular drusen, soft drusen, and subretinal drusenoid deposits were reviewed, as were actual images from affected eyes. Representative histological sections were examined. The geometry, location, and imaging characteristics of these lesions were evaluated. A hypothesis based on the Beer-Lambert Law of light absorption was generated to fit these observations.
Cuticular drusen appear as numerous uniform round yellow-white punctate accumulations under the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Soft drusen are larger yellow-white dome-shaped mounds of deposit under the RPE. Subretinal drusenoid deposits are polymorphous light-grey interconnected accumulations above the RPE. Based on the model, both cuticular and soft drusen appear yellow due to the removal of shorter wavelength light by a double pass through the RPE. Subretinal drusenoid deposits, which are located on the RPE, are not subjected to short wavelength attenuation and therefore are more prominent when viewed with blue light. The location and morphology of extracellular material in relationship to the RPE, and associated changes to RPE morphology and pigmentation, appeared to be primary determinants of druse appearance in different imaging modalities.
Although cuticular drusen, subretinal drusenoid deposits, and soft drusen are composed of common components, they are distinguishable by multimodal imaging due to differences in location, morphology, and optical filtering effects by drusenoid material and the RPE.
PMCID: PMC2952278  PMID: 20924263
cuticular drusen; subretinal drusenoid deposits; reticular pseudodrusen; soft drusen; age-related macular degeneration
10.  Microscopic mammalian retinal pigment epithelium lesions induce widespread proliferation with differences in magnitude between center and periphery 
Molecular Vision  2010;16:570-581.
The vertebrate retina develops from the center to the periphery. In amphibians and fish the retinal margin continues to proliferate throughout life, resulting in retinal expansion. This does not happen in mammals. However, some mammalian peripheral retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells continue to divide, perhaps as a vestige of this mechanism. The RPE cells are adjacent to the ciliary margin, a known stem cell source. Here we test the hypothesis that peripheral RPE is fundamentally different from central RPE by challenging different regions with microscopic laser burns and charting differential responses in terms of levels of proliferation and the regions over which this proliferation occurs.
Microscopic RPE lesions were undertaken in rats at different eccentricities and the tissue stained for proliferative markers Ki67 and bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) and the remodeling metalloproteinase marker 2 (MMP2).
All lesions produced local RPE proliferation and tissue remodeling. Significantly more mitosis resulted from peripheral than central lesions. Unexpectedly, single lesions also resulted in RPE cells proliferating across the entire retina. Their number did not increase linearly with lesion number, indicating that they may be a specific population. All lesions repaired and formed apparently normal relations with the neural retina. Repaired RPE was albino.
These results highlight regional RPE differences, revealing an enhanced peripheral repair capacity. Further, all lesions have a marked impact on both local and distant RPE cells, demonstrating a pan retinal signaling mechanism triggering proliferation across the tissue plane. The RPE cells may represent a distinct population as their number did not increase with multiple lesions. The fact that repairing cells were hypopigmented is of interest because reduced pigment is associated with enhanced proliferative capacities in the developing neural retina.
PMCID: PMC2847682  PMID: 20360994
11.  CD36 Deficiency Leads to Choroidal Involution via COX2 Down-Regulation in Rodents 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(2):e39.
In the Western world, a major cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Recent research in angiogenesis has furthered the understanding of choroidal neovascularization, which occurs in the “wet” form of AMD. In contrast, very little is known about the mechanisms of the predominant, “dry” form of AMD, which is characterized by retinal atrophy and choroidal involution. The aim of this study is to elucidate the possible implication of the scavenger receptor CD36 in retinal degeneration and choroidal involution, the cardinal features of the dry form of AMD.
Methods and Findings
We here show that deficiency of CD36, which participates in outer segment (OS) phagocytosis by the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in vitro, leads to significant progressive age-related photoreceptor degeneration evaluated histologically at different ages in two rodent models of CD36 invalidation in vivo (Spontaneous hypertensive rats (SHR) and CD36−/− mice). Furthermore, these animals developed significant age related choroidal involution reflected in a 100%–300% increase in the avascular area of the choriocapillaries measured on vascular corrosion casts of aged animals. We also show that proangiogenic COX2 expression in RPE is stimulated by CD36 activating antibody and that CD36-deficient RPE cells from SHR rats fail to induce COX2 and subsequent vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) expression upon OS or antibody stimulation in vitro. CD36−/− mice express reduced levels of COX2 and VEGF in vivo, and COX2−/− mice develop progressive choroidal degeneration similar to what is seen in CD36 deficiency.
CD36 deficiency leads to choroidal involution via COX2 down-regulation in the RPE. These results show a novel molecular mechanism of choroidal degeneration, a key feature of dry AMD. These findings unveil a pathogenic process, to our knowledge previously undescribed, with important implications for the development of new therapies.
Florian Sennelaub and colleagues show that CD36 deficiency leads to choroidal involution, a key feature of "dry" age-related macular degeneration, via COX-2 down-regulation in the retinal pigment epithelium.
Editors' Summary
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly in industrialized countries. The macula is the central region of the retina, the tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and converts it into electrical messages that are sent to the brain. In the commonest form of AMD—“dry” AMD—the light-sensitive cells in the retina (the photoreceptors) gradually die. This degeneration might occur because of damage to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). This layer of dark cells lies between the photoreceptors and the choroid, the layer of the eye that contains blood vessels and brings oxygen to the retina. The RPE keeps the retina healthy by transferring the right amount of oxygen and nutrients from the choroid to the retina and by removing worn-out photoreceptor outer segments (the part of the photoreceptor that actually absorbs light) in a process called phagocytosis (engulfment and digestion). In addition to photoreceptor degeneration and RPE shrinkage, a layer of the choroid rich in small blood vessels (the choriocapillaris) also shrinks in dry AMD. For affected individuals, all these changes (which experts describe as retinal atrophy and choroidal involution) mean that the sharp central vision that is needed for reading and driving is destroyed, leaving only dim, burred images or a black hole at the center of the vision.
Why Was This Study Done?
Little is known about the molecular mechanisms that underlie dry AMD and, consequently, there is no cure for it. In this study, the researchers have tested whether a molecule called CD36, which is expressed on the surface of RPE cells, is involved in dry AMD. CD36 is a scavenger receptor—which means it binds many potentially harmful molecules including oxidized fats (which are present in the photoreceptor outer segments) and is involved in their phagocytosis. Phagocytosis itself induces the expression of several proteins in the RPE cells, including COX2, a “proangiogenic” protein that stimulates the growth of blood vessels. Putting this information together, the researchers hypothesized that a defect in CD36 might cause the characteristic retinal atrophy (by preventing the phagocytosis of worn-out photoreceptor outer segments) and choroidal involution (by preventing the induction of COX2 expression and consequently the maintenance of the blood vessels in the choroid) of dry AMD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers first show that retinal degeneration occurs in rats and mice that express no CD36. This degeneration (which included a reduction in the thickness of the retina, the presence of irregularly shaped photoreceptor outer segments, and the detachment of these structures from the RPE) was seen in old but not young animals. Choroidal involution was also seen in these CD36-deficient animals. This change was present in young mice and rats but increased with age so that by one year old, the choriocapillaris looked moth-eaten. Next, the researchers show that although RPE cells taken from normal animals and grown in dishes were able to make COX2 in response to exposure to purified photoreceptor outer segments, RPE cells from CD36-deficient animals did not. The expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF; a protein that is needed for normal choroidal development and whose expression is controlled by COX2) showed a similar pattern. Finally, the researchers report that COX2 deficiency in mice caused similar age-dependent choroidal involution and similar effects on VEGF expression in RPE cells as CD36 deficiency.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that CD36 deficiency leads to progressive, age-related degeneration of photoreceptors and choroidal involution in rats and mice. They also show that CD36 deficiency causes this choroidal involution, the key feature of dry AMD, because it leads to down-regulation of COX2 expression (and subsequently reduced VEGF expression) in the RPE. Researchers now need to find out whether this mechanism for the development of dry AMD holds in people—what happens in animals does not necessarily happen in people. If it does, pharmacological activation of CD36 or restoration of CD36 expression in the RPE might eventually provide a way to treat dry AMD.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus provides links to information on macular degeneration and an encyclopedia page on macular degeneration (in English and Spanish)
Pages on the US National Institutes of Health NIH SeniorHealth site provides text and spoken information about AMD
The US National Eye Institute and the UK Royal National Institute of Blind People also provide information about AMD
Wikipedia has pages on the retina, photoreceptor cells, retinal pigment epithelium, and choroid (note that Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
PMCID: PMC2245984  PMID: 18288886
12.  NLRP3 Inflammasome: Activation and Regulation in Age-Related Macular Degeneration 
Mediators of Inflammation  2015;2015:690243.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of legal blindness in the elderly in industrialized countries. AMD is a multifactorial disease influenced by both genetic and environmental risk factors. Progression of AMD is characterized by an increase in the number and size of drusen, extracellular deposits, which accumulate between the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and Bruch's membrane (BM) in outer retina. The major pathways associated with its pathogenesis include oxidative stress and inflammation in the early stages of AMD. Little is known about the interactions among these mechanisms that drive the transition from early to late stages of AMD, such as geographic atrophy (GA) or choroidal neovascularization (CNV). As part of the innate immune system, inflammasome activation has been identified in RPE cells and proposed to be a causal factor for RPE dysfunction and degeneration. Here, we will first review the classic model of inflammasome activation, then discuss the potentials of AMD-related factors to activate the inflammasome in both nonocular immune cells and RPE cells, and finally introduce several novel mechanisms for regulating the inflammasome activity.
PMCID: PMC4324923
13.  Retinal pigment epithelial expression of complement regulator CD46 is altered early in the course of geographic atrophy 
Experimental eye research  2011;93(4):413-423.
In geographic atrophy (GA), the non-neovascular end stage of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the macular retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) progressively degenerates. Membrane cofactor protein (MCP, CD46) is the only membrane-bound regulator of complement expressed on the human RPE basolateral surface. Based on evidence of the role of complement in AMD, we hypothesized that altered CD46 expression on the RPE would be associated with GA development and/or progression. Here we report the timeline of CD46 protein expression changes across the GA transition zone, relative to control eyes, and relative to events in other chorioretinal layers. Eleven donor eyes (mean age 87.0 ± 4.1 yr) with GA and 5 control eyes (mean age 84.0 ± 8.9 yr) without GA were evaluated. Macular cryosections were stained with PASH for basal deposits, von Kossa for calcium, and for CD46 immunoreactivity. Internal controls for protein expression were provided by an independent basolateral protein, monocarboxylate transporter 3 (MCT3) and an apical protein, ezrin. Within zones defined by 8 different semi-quantitative grades of RPE morphology, we determined the location and intensity of immunoreactivity, outer segment length, and Bruch’s membrane calcification. Differences between GA and control eyes and between milder and more severe RPE stages in GA eyes were assessed statistically. Increasing grades of RPE degeneration were associated with progressive loss of polarity and loss of intensity of staining of CD46, beginning with the stages that are considered normal aging (grades 0–1). Those GA stages with affected CD46 immunoreactivity exhibited basal laminar deposit, still-normal photoreceptors, and concomitant changes in control protein expression. Activated or anteriorly migrated RPE (grades 2–3) exhibited greatly diminished CD46. Changes in RPE CD46 expression occur early in GA, before there is evidence of morphological RPE change. At later stages of degeneration, CD46 alterations occur within a context of altered RPE polarity. These changes precede degeneration of the overlying retina and suggest that therapeutic interventions be targeted to the RPE.
PMCID: PMC3202648  PMID: 21684273
Age-related macular degeneration; geographic atrophy; complement; CD46; inflammation; immunohistochemistry; histopathology; human
14.  Aging, age-related macular degeneration, and the response-to-retention of apolipoprotein B-containing lipoproteins 
The largest risk factor for age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) is advanced age. A prominent age-related change in the human retina is the accumulation of histochemically detectable neutral lipid in normal Bruch’s membrane (BrM) throughout adulthood. This change has the potential to have a major impact on physiology of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). It occurs in the same compartment as drusen and basal linear deposit, the pathognomonic extracellular, lipid-containing lesions of ARMD. Here we present evidence from light microscopic histochemistry, ultrastructure, lipid profiling of tissues and isolated lipoproteins, and gene expression analysis that this deposition can be accounted for by esterified cholesterol-rich, apolipoprotein B-containing lipoprotein particles constitutively produced by the RPE. This work collectively allows ARMD lesion formation and its aftermath to be conceptualized as a response to the retention of a sub-endothelial apolipoprotein B lipoprotein, similar to a widely accepted model of atherosclerotic coronary artery disease (CAD) (Tabas et al., 2007). This approach provides a wide knowledge base and sophisticated clinical armamentarium that can be readily exploited for the development of new model systems and the future benefit of ARMD patients.
PMCID: PMC4319375  PMID: 19698799
Age-related macular degeneration; Retinal pigment epithelium; Bruch’s membrane; Drusen; Basal deposits; Lipoproteins; Cholesterol; Retinyl ester; Apolipoprotein B
15.  Canine and Human Visual Cortex Intact and Responsive Despite Early Retinal Blindness from RPE65 Mutation 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(6):e230.
RPE65 is an essential molecule in the retinoid-visual cycle, and RPE65 gene mutations cause the congenital human blindness known as Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). Somatic gene therapy delivered to the retina of blind dogs with an RPE65 mutation dramatically restores retinal physiology and has sparked international interest in human treatment trials for this incurable disease. An unanswered question is how the visual cortex responds after prolonged sensory deprivation from retinal dysfunction. We therefore studied the cortex of RPE65-mutant dogs before and after retinal gene therapy. Then, we inquired whether there is visual pathway integrity and responsivity in adult humans with LCA due to RPE65 mutations (RPE65-LCA).
Methods and Findings
RPE65-mutant dogs were studied with fMRI. Prior to therapy, retinal and subcortical responses to light were markedly diminished, and there were minimal cortical responses within the primary visual areas of the lateral gyrus (activation amplitude mean ± standard deviation [SD] = 0.07% ± 0.06% and volume = 1.3 ± 0.6 cm3). Following therapy, retinal and subcortical response restoration was accompanied by increased amplitude (0.18% ± 0.06%) and volume (8.2 ± 0.8 cm3) of activation within the lateral gyrus (p < 0.005 for both). Cortical recovery occurred rapidly (within a month of treatment) and was persistent (as long as 2.5 y after treatment). Recovery was present even when treatment was provided as late as 1–4 y of age. Human RPE65-LCA patients (ages 18–23 y) were studied with structural magnetic resonance imaging. Optic nerve diameter (3.2 ± 0.5 mm) was within the normal range (3.2 ± 0.3 mm), and occipital cortical white matter density as judged by voxel-based morphometry was slightly but significantly altered (1.3 SD below control average, p = 0.005). Functional magnetic resonance imaging in human RPE65-LCA patients revealed cortical responses with a markedly diminished activation volume (8.8 ± 1.2 cm3) compared to controls (29.7 ± 8.3 cm3, p < 0.001) when stimulated with lower intensity light. Unexpectedly, cortical response volume (41.2 ± 11.1 cm3) was comparable to normal (48.8 ± 3.1 cm3, p = 0.2) with higher intensity light stimulation.
Visual cortical responses dramatically improve after retinal gene therapy in the canine model of RPE65-LCA. Human RPE65-LCA patients have preserved visual pathway anatomy and detectable cortical activation despite limited visual experience. Taken together, the results support the potential for human visual benefit from retinal therapies currently being aimed at restoring vision to the congenitally blind with genetic retinal disease.
The study by Samuel Jacobson and colleagues suggests that retinal gene therapy can improve retinal, visual pathway, and visual cortex responses to light stimulation, even after prolonged periods of blindness and in congenitally blind patients.
Editors' Summary
The eye captures light but the brain is where vision is experienced. Treatments for childhood blindness at the eye level are ready, but it is unknown whether the brain will be receptive to an improved neural message. Normal vision begins as photoreceptor cells in the retina (the light-sensitive tissue lining the inside of the eye) convert visual images into electrical impulses. These impulses are sent along the optic nerve to the visual cortex, the brain region where they are interpreted. The conversion of light into electrical impulses requires the activation of a molecule called retinal, which is subsequently recycled by retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells neighboring the retina. One of the key enzymes of the recycling reactions is encoded by a gene called RPE65. Genetic changes (mutations) in RPE65 cause an inherited form of blindness called Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA). In this disease, retinal is not recycled and as a result, the photoreceptor cells cannot work properly and affected individuals have poor or nonexistent vision from birth. Previous studies in dog and mouse models of the human disease have demonstrated that the introduction of a functional copy of RPE65 into the RPE cells using a harmless virus (gene therapy) dramatically restores retinal activity. Very recently, a pioneering gene therapy operation took place in London (UK) where surgeons injected a functional copy of RPE65 into the retina of a man with LCA. Whether this operation results in improved vision is not known at this time.
Why Was This Study Done?
Gene therapy corrects the retinal defects in animal models of LCA but whether the visual pathway from the retina to the visual cortex of the brain can respond normally to the signals sent by the restored retina is not known. Early visual experience is thought to be necessary for the development of a functional visual cortex, so replacing the defective RPE65 gene might not improve the vision of people with LCA. In this study, the researchers have studied the visual cortex of RPE65-deficient dogs before and after gene therapy to see whether the therapy affects the activity of the visual cortex. They have also investigated visual pathway integrity and responsiveness in adults with LCA caused by RPE65 mutations. If the visual pathway is disrupted in these patients, they reasoned, gene therapy might not restore their vision.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure light-induced brain activity in RPE65-deficient dogs before and after gene therapy. They also examined the reactions of the dogs' pupils to light (in LCA, the pupils do not contract normally in response to light because there is reduced signal transmission along the visual pathway). Finally, they measured the electrical activity of the dogs' retinas in response to light flashes—the retinas of patients with LCA do not react to light. Gene therapy corrected the defective retinal and visual pathway responses to light in the RPE65-deficient dogs and, whereas before treatment there was no response in the visual cortex to light stimulation in these dogs, after treatment, its activity approached that seen in normal dogs. The recovery of cortical responses was permanent and occurred soon after treatment, even in animals that were 4 years old when treated. Next, using structural MRI, the researchers studied human patients with LCA and found that the optic nerve diameter in young adults was within the normal range and that the structure of the visual cortex was very similar to that of normal individuals. Finally, using fMRI, they found that, although the visual cortex of patients with LCA did not respond to dim light, its reaction to bright light was comparable to that of normal individuals.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The findings from the dog study indicate that retinal gene therapy rapidly improves retinal, visual pathway, and visual cortex responses to light stimulation, even in animals that have been blind for years. In other words, in the dog model of LCA at least, all the components of the visual system remain receptive to visual inputs even after long periods of visual deprivation. The findings from the human study also indicate that the visual pathway remains anatomically intact despite years of disuse and that the visual cortex can be activated in patients with LCA even though these people have very limited visual experience. Taken together, these findings suggest that successful gene therapy of the retina might restore some functional vision to people with LCA but proof will have to await the outcomes of several clinical trials ongoing or being planned in Europe and the USA.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
General information on gene therapy is available from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Information is provided by the BBC about gene therapy for Leber congenital amaurosis (includes an audio clip from a doctor about the operation)
The National Institutes of Health/National Eye Institute (US) provides information about an ongoing gene therapy trial of RPE65-Leber congenital amaurosis gives details on treatment trials for Leber congenital amaurosis
The Foundation Fighting Blindness has a fact sheet on Leber congenital amaurosis (site includes Microsoft Webspeak links that read some content aloud)
The Foundation for Retinal Research has a fact sheet on Leber congenital amaurosis
Find more detailed information on Leber congenital amaurosis and the gene mutations that cause it from GeneReviews
WonderBaby, information for parents of babies with Leber congenital amaurosis
PMCID: PMC1896221  PMID: 17594175
16.  Adhesion Failures Determine the Pattern of Choroidal Neovascularization in the Eye: A Computer Simulation Study 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(5):e1002440.
Choroidal neovascularization (CNV) of the macular area of the retina is the major cause of severe vision loss in adults. In CNV, after choriocapillaries initially penetrate Bruch's membrane (BrM), invading vessels may regress or expand (CNV initiation). Next, during Early and Late CNV, the expanding vasculature usually spreads in one of three distinct patterns: in a layer between BrM and the retinal pigment epithelium (sub-RPE or Type 1 CNV), in a layer between the RPE and the photoreceptors (sub-retinal or Type 2 CNV) or in both loci simultaneously (combined pattern or Type 3 CNV). While most studies hypothesize that CNV primarily results from growth-factor effects or holes in BrM, our three-dimensional simulations of multi-cell model of the normal and pathological maculae recapitulate the three growth patterns, under the hypothesis that CNV results from combinations of impairment of: 1) RPE-RPE epithelial junctional adhesion, 2) Adhesion of the RPE basement membrane complex to BrM (RPE-BrM adhesion), and 3) Adhesion of the RPE to the photoreceptor outer segments (RPE-POS adhesion). Our key findings are that when an endothelial tip cell penetrates BrM: 1) RPE with normal epithelial junctions, basal attachment to BrM and apical attachment to POS resists CNV. 2) Small holes in BrM do not, by themselves, initiate CNV. 3) RPE with normal epithelial junctions and normal apical RPE-POS adhesion, but weak adhesion to BrM (e.g. due to lipid accumulation in BrM) results in Early sub-RPE CNV. 4) Normal adhesion of RBaM to BrM, but reduced apical RPE-POS or epithelial RPE-RPE adhesion (e.g. due to inflammation) results in Early sub-retinal CNV. 5) Simultaneous reduction in RPE-RPE epithelial binding and RPE-BrM adhesion results in either sub-RPE or sub-retinal CNV which often progresses to combined pattern CNV. These findings suggest that defects in adhesion dominate CNV initiation and progression.
Author Summary
This paper tests hypotheses for the mechanisms of choroidal neovascularization (CNV), the pathological growth of capillaries in response to physical defects in a structured tissue, the retina, showing that previously neglected cell-cell, cell-ECM and ECM-ECM adhesion failures suffice to determine the loci and progression of neovascularization. Surprisingly, a simple theory based on classes of adhesion failures, which involve variation of only five parameters, can coherently explain the heterogeneous range of CNV growth patterns and dynamics. Our results are generally applicable to other types of tissues where capillaries are close to an epithelium, e.g., lung and gut.
PMCID: PMC3342931  PMID: 22570603
17.  Understanding age-related macular degeneration (AMD): Relationships between the photoreceptor/retinal pigment epithelium/Bruch’s membrane/choriocapillaris complex 
Molecular Aspects of Medicine  2012;33(4):295-317.
There is a mutualistic symbiotic relationship between the components of the photoreceptor/retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)/Bruch’s membrane (BrMb)/choriocapillaris (CC) complex that is lost in AMD. Which component in the photoreceptor/RPE/BrMb/CC complex is affected first appears to depend on the type of AMD. In atrophic AMD (~85–90% of cases), it appears that large confluent drusen formation and hyperpigmentation (presumably dysfunction in RPE) are the initial insult and the resorption of these drusen and loss of RPE (hypopigmentation) can be predictive for progression of geographic atrophy (GA). The death and dysfunction of photoreceptors and CC appear to be secondary events to loss in RPE.
In neovascular AMD (~10–15% of cases), the loss of choroidal vasculature may be the initial insult to the complex. Loss of CC with an intact RPE monolayer in wet AMD has been observed. This may be due to reduction in blood supply because of large vessel stenosis. Furthermore, the environment of the CC, basement membrane and intercapillary septa, is a proinflammatory milieu with accumulation of complement components as well as proinflammatory molecules like CRP during AMD. In this toxic milieu, CC die or become dysfunction making adjacent RPE hypoxic. These hypoxic cells then produce angiogenic substances like VEGF that stimulate growth of new vessels from CC, resulting in choroidal neovascularization (CNV). The loss of CC might also be a stimulus for drusen formation since the disposal system for retinal debris and exocytosed material from RPE would be limited. Ultimately, the photoreceptors die of lack of nutrients, leakage of serum components from the neovascularization, and scar formation.
Therefore, the mutualistic symbiotic relationship within the photoreceptor/RPE/BrMb/CC complex is lost in both forms of AMD. Loss of this functionally integrated relationship results in death and dysfunction of all of the components in the complex.
PMCID: PMC3392421  PMID: 22542780
18.  Myeloid Cells Expressing VEGF and Arginase-1 Following Uptake of Damaged Retinal Pigment Epithelium Suggests Potential Mechanism That Drives the Onset of Choroidal Angiogenesis in Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e72935.
Whilst data recognise both myeloid cell accumulation during choroidal neovascularisation (CNV) as well as complement activation, none of the data has presented a clear explanation for the angiogenic drive that promotes pathological angiogenesis. One possibility that is a pre-eminent drive is a specific and early conditioning and activation of the myeloid cell infiltrate. Using a laser-induced CNV murine model, we have identified that disruption of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and Bruch’s membrane resulted in an early recruitment of macrophages derived from monocytes and microglia, prior to angiogenesis and contemporaneous with lesional complement activation. Early recruited CD11b+ cells expressed a definitive gene signature of selective inflammatory mediators particularly a pronounced Arg-1 expression. Accumulating macrophages from retina and peripheral blood were activated at the site of injury, displaying enhanced VEGF expression, and notably prior to exaggerated VEGF expression from RPE, or earliest stages of angiogenesis. All of these initial events, including distinct VEGF + Arg-1+ myeloid cells, subsided when CNV was established and at the time RPE-VEGF expression was maximal. Depletion of inflammatory CCR2-positive monocytes confirmed origin of infiltrating monocyte Arg-1 expression, as following depletion Arg-1 signal was lost and CNV suppressed. Furthermore, our in vitro data supported a myeloid cell uptake of damaged RPE or its derivatives as a mechanism generating VEGF + Arg-1+ phenotype in vivo. Our results reveal a potential early driver initiating angiogenesis via myeloid-derived VEGF drive following uptake of damaged RPE and deliver an explanation of why CNV develops during any of the stages of macular degeneration and can be explored further for therapeutic gain.
PMCID: PMC3745388  PMID: 23977372
19.  L-DOPA Is an Endogenous Ligand for OA1 
PLoS Biology  2008;6(9):e236.
Albinism is a genetic defect characterized by a loss of pigmentation. The neurosensory retina, which is not pigmented, exhibits pathologic changes secondary to the loss of pigmentation in the retina pigment epithelium (RPE). How the loss of pigmentation in the RPE causes developmental defects in the adjacent neurosensory retina has not been determined, but offers a unique opportunity to investigate the interactions between these two important tissues. One of the genes that causes albinism encodes for an orphan GPCR (OA1) expressed only in pigmented cells, including the RPE. We investigated the function and signaling of OA1 in RPE and transfected cell lines. Our results indicate that OA1 is a selective L-DOPA receptor, with no measurable second messenger activity from two closely related compounds, tyrosine and dopamine. Radiolabeled ligand binding confirmed that OA1 exhibited a single, saturable binding site for L-DOPA. Dopamine competed with L-DOPA for the single OA1 binding site, suggesting it could function as an OA1 antagonist. OA1 response to L-DOPA was defined by several common measures of G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) activation, including influx of intracellular calcium and recruitment of β-arrestin. Further, inhibition of tyrosinase, the enzyme that makes L-DOPA, resulted in decreased PEDF secretion by RPE. Further, stimulation of OA1 in RPE with L-DOPA resulted in increased PEDF secretion. Taken together, our results illustrate an autocrine loop between OA1 and tyrosinase linked through L-DOPA, and this loop includes the secretion of at least one very potent retinal neurotrophic factor. OA1 is a selective L-DOPA receptor whose downstream effects govern spatial patterning of the developing retina. Our results suggest that the retinal consequences of albinism caused by changes in melanin synthetic machinery may be treated by L-DOPA supplementation.
Author Summary
Albinism is the loss of pigmentation caused by mutations in one of several different genes that alter pigment synthesis by different mechanisms. In the eye, albinism impairs sensory retina development and causes significant vision problems. Regardless of the genetic mutation that causes albinism, the associated vision problems are the same. Interestingly, none of the pigmentation genes are expressed by the sensory retinal cells affected by albinism but by neighboring, retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE). Furthermore, loss of pigmentation in RPE somehow leads to imprecise retinal development. To investigate this cellular relationship, we studied OA1, which is encoded by a gene in which mutations cause ocular albinism. OA1 is unique among proteins involved with albinism because OA1 is a potential receptor that could participate in signal transduction rather than being a direct member of the pigment synthesis machinery. We show that the ligand for OA1 is L-DOPA, thus removing OA1 from orphan G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) status. L-DOPA is a by-product of pigment synthesis, indicating that pigment synthesis and OA1 signaling are intertwined. OA1 signaling is highly selective for L-DOPA, and we show that two closely related molecules, dopamine and tyrosine, bind to OA1 but fail to stimulate signaling. We also show that OA1 signaling controls secretion of a potent neuron survival factor. Taken together, our data suggest that all forms of albinism produce the same retinal defects because of a final common pathway through OA1 signaling with downstream effects on RPE neurotrophic factor secretion.
Albinism produces retinal defects, and OA1 is an orphan G-protein-coupled receptor that leads to albinism without acting directly on melanin synthesis. Here the ligand is identified and a mechanism is proposed by which the various forms of albinism signal through OA1, resulting in the same retinal phenotype.
PMCID: PMC2553842  PMID: 18828673
20.  Age-Related Retinopathy in NRF2-Deficient Mice 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(4):e19456.
Cumulative oxidative damage is implicated in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2) is a transcription factor that plays key roles in retinal antioxidant and detoxification responses. The purposes of this study were to determine whether NRF2-deficient mice would develop AMD-like retinal pathology with aging and to explore the underlying mechanisms.
Methods and Findings
Eyes of both wild type and Nrf2−/− mice were examined in vivo by fundus photography and electroretinography (ERG). Structural changes of the outer retina in aged animals were examined by light and electron microscopy, and immunofluorescence labeling. Our results showed that Nrf2−/− mice developed age-dependent degenerative pathology in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Drusen-like deposits, accumulation of lipofuscin, spontaneous choroidal neovascularization (CNV) and sub-RPE deposition of inflammatory proteins were present in Nrf2−/− mice after 12 months. Accumulation of autophagy-related vacuoles and multivesicular bodies was identified by electron microcopy both within the RPE and in Bruch's membrane of aged Nrf2−/− mice.
Our data suggest that disruption of Nfe2l2 gene increased the vulnerability of outer retina to age-related degeneration. NRF2-deficient mice developed ocular pathology similar to cardinal features of human AMD and deregulated autophagy is likely a mechanistic link between oxidative injury and inflammation. The Nrf2−/− mice can provide a novel model for mechanistic and translational research on AMD.
PMCID: PMC3084871  PMID: 21559389
21.  Quantitative Classification of Eyes with and without Intermediate Age-related Macular Degeneration Using Optical Coherence Tomography 
Ophthalmology  2013;121(1):162-172.
To define quantitative indicators for the presence of intermediate age-related macular degeneration (AMD) via spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) imaging of older adults.
Evaluation of diagnostic test and technology.
Participants and Controls
One eye from 115 elderly subjects without AMD and 269 subjects with intermediate AMD from the Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Ancillary SD-OCT Study.
We semiautomatically delineated the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and RPE drusen complex (RPEDC, the axial distance from the apex of the drusen and RPE layer to Bruch's membrane) and total retina (TR, the axial distance between the inner limiting and Bruch's membranes) boundaries. We registered and averaged the thickness maps from control subjects to generate a map of “normal” non-AMD thickness. We considered RPEDC thicknesses larger or smaller than 3 standard deviations from the mean as abnormal, indicating drusen or geographic atrophy (GA), respectively. We measured TR volumes, RPEDC volumes, and abnormal RPEDC thickening and thinning volumes for each subject. By using different combinations of these 4 disease indicators, we designed 5 automated classifiers for the presence of AMD on the basis of the generalized linear model regression framework. We trained and evaluated the performance of these classifiers using the leave-one-out method.
Main Outcome Measures
The range and topographic distribution of the RPEDC and TR thicknesses in a 5-mm diameter cylinder centered at the fovea.
The most efficient method for separating AMD and control eyes required all 4 disease indicators. The area under the curve (AUC) of the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) for this classifier was >0.99. Overall neurosensory retinal thickening in eyes with AMD versus control eyes in our study contrasts with previous smaller studies.
We identified and validated efficient biometrics to distinguish AMD from normal eyes by analyzing the topographic distribution of normal and abnormal RPEDC thicknesses across a large atlas of eyes. We created an online atlas to share the 38 400 SD-OCT images in this study, their corresponding segmentations, and quantitative measurements.
Financial Disclosure(s)
Proprietary or commercial disclosure may be found after the references.
PMCID: PMC3901571  PMID: 23993787
22.  Human RPE Stem Cells Grown into Polarized RPE Monolayers on a Polyester Matrix Are Maintained after Grafting into Rabbit Subretinal Space 
Stem Cell Reports  2014;2(1):64-77.
Transplantation of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is being developed as a cell-replacement therapy for age-related macular degeneration. Human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived RPE are currently translating toward clinic. We introduce the adult human RPE stem cell (hRPESC) as an alternative RPE source. Polarized monolayers of adult hRPESC-derived RPE grown on polyester (PET) membranes had near-native characteristics. Trephined pieces of RPE monolayers on PET were transplanted subretinally in the rabbit, a large-eyed animal model. After 4 days, retinal edema was observed above the implant, detected by spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) and fundoscopy. At 1 week, retinal atrophy overlying the fetal or adult transplant was observed, remaining stable thereafter. Histology obtained 4 weeks after implantation confirmed a continuous polarized human RPE monolayer on PET. Taken together, the xeno-RPE survived with retained characteristics in the subretinal space. These experiments support that adult hRPESC-derived RPE are a potential source for transplantation therapies.
Graphical Abstract
•Adult hRPESC-derived RPE had comparable in vitro characteristics to fetal hRPE•hRPE monolayers survived 4 weeks on PET carriers under the rabbit retina•Better xenograft survival may be due to the maintained hRPE cell polarity•Atrophy of the retina overlaying the hRPE xenograft remains a future challenge
Stanzel et al. have transplanted polarized monolayers of human retinal pigment epithelium (hRPE) grown on polyester membranes derived from adult hRPE stem cells or fetal tissue under the rabbit retina. The xeno-RPE survived 4 weeks with retained cell polarity characteristics in the subretinal space. These experiments support that adult hRPESC-derived RPE are a potential source for transplantation therapies.
PMCID: PMC3916756  PMID: 24511471
23.  Cell-Deposited Matrix Improves Retinal Pigment Epithelium Survival on Aged Submacular Human Bruch's Membrane 
Resurfacing submacular human Bruch's membrane with a cell-deposited extracellular matrix increases long-term survival of retinal pigment epithelial cells. This effect is most marked in submacular Bruch's membrane of aged Caucasians.
To determine whether resurfacing submacular human Bruch's membrane with a cell-deposited extracellular matrix (ECM) improves retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) survival.
Bovine corneal endothelial (BCE) cells were seeded onto the inner collagenous layer of submacular Bruch's membrane explants of human donor eyes to allow ECM deposition. Control explants from fellow eyes were cultured in medium only. The deposited ECM was exposed by removing BCE. Fetal RPE cells were then cultured on these explants for 1, 14, or 21 days. The explants were analyzed quantitatively by light microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Surviving RPE cells from explants cultured for 21 days were harvested to compare bestrophin and RPE65 mRNA expression. Mass spectroscopy was performed on BCE-ECM to examine the protein composition.
The BCE-treated explants showed significantly higher RPE nuclear density than did the control explants at all time points. RPE expressed more differentiated features on BCE-treated explants than on untreated explants, but expressed very little mRNA for bestrophin or RPE65. The untreated young (<50 years) and African American submacular Bruch's membrane explants supported significantly higher RPE nuclear densities (NDs) than did the Caucasian explants. These differences were reduced or nonexistent in the BCE-ECM-treated explants. Proteins identified in the BCE-ECM included ECM proteins, ECM-associated proteins, cell membrane proteins, and intracellular proteins.
Increased RPE survival can be achieved on aged submacular human Bruch's membrane by resurfacing the latter with a cell-deposited ECM. Caucasian eyes seem to benefit the most, as cell survival is the worst on submacular Bruch's membrane in these eyes.
PMCID: PMC3101675  PMID: 21398292
24.  Defects in retinal pigment epithelium cell proliferation and retinal attachment in mutant mice with p27Kip1 gene ablation 
Molecular Vision  2007;13:273-286.
Little is known about the mechanisms that regulate cell cycle withdrawal of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) during development, or about the mechanisms maintaining epithelial cell quiescence in adult retinas. The present study examines the potential role of the negative cell cycle regulator p27Kip1 in controlling RPE proliferation, using mice with targeted ablation of the p27Kip1 gene.
Ocular tissues were obtained from wild-type and p27Kip1-null mice at several postnatal ages. Following aldehyde fixation, eyes were processed intact for JB-4 histology and electron microscopy. Alternatively, tissues were removed by manual or enzymatic dissection in order to obtain flat-mounts of the RPE attached to either the choroid-sclera or neural retina, respectively. Epithelial flat-mounts were either left unlabeled, in which case melanin pigment provided internal contrast, or labeled with Alexa Fluor 488-phalloidin and propidium iodide to visualize cell boundaries and nuclei, respectively.
Morphometric analysis using transverse plastic sections revealed a 96% increase in nuclear density and a 12% increase in thickness (apical to basal) for mutant vs. normal epithelia at postnatal day 35 (P35). These changes were not restricted to central or peripheral regions, and were uncorrelated with focal areas of dysplasia seen in the mutant neural retina. When similar tissues were viewed as flat-mounts, an observed 100% increase in nuclear density was accompanied by only a 46% enhancement in cellular density. This resulted in a larger proportion of multinucleated cells in the nullizygous RPE as compared with the wild-type epithelium (91 versus 47%). Such a pattern was achieved relatively early in development since, at P7 when the increase in RPE nuclear density was essentially complete, cellular density was augmented by only 39%. In addition to these proliferative changes, individual epithelial cells sometimes exhibited structural abnormalities, including an altered cortical actin cytoskeleton and displacement of nuclei from their normal central position. Surprisingly, while the RPE cells of null animals were similar ultrastructurally to those of the wild-type, interdigitation of their microvillous processes with outer segments was incomplete. Quantitative analysis revealed that such areas of detachment characterize, on average, 42% of the nullizygous retina, and that there is little correlation between detachment and neural retina dysplasia from one eye to another. Together with parallel evidence demonstrating a substantial decline in the apparent adhesiveness of mutant retinas relative to the normal tissue, the data is strongly indicative of an altered epithelium-photoreceptor interaction following gene ablation.
The absence of a functional p27Kip1 gene results in enhanced RPE nuclear division, without a commensurate increase in cell division. Although the mutant epithelium as a whole appears structurally normal, individual cells exhibit cytoskeletal changes and their interaction with the neural retina is compromised.
PMCID: PMC2633469  PMID: 17356514
25.  Accumulation of tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 in human eyes with Sorsby's fundus dystrophy or retinitis pigmentosa 
The British Journal of Ophthalmology  1998;82(11):1329-1334.
BACKGROUND/AIMS—Tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3 (TIMP-3) is normally synthesised by the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and deposited in Bruch's membrane. Mutations in the TIMP3 gene cause Sorsby's fundus dystrophy (SFD), which is characterised by thickening of Bruch's membrane, choroidal neovascularisation, and photoreceptor degeneration. To elucidate the role of TIMP-3 in human retinal degenerative diseases, we immunolocalised TIMP-3 in eyes with SFD caused by the Ser-181-Cys TIMP3 gene mutation or retinitis pigmentosa (RP; not caused by TIMP3 mutations).
METHODS—Standard light microscopic immunocytochemistry, including antigen retrieval, was used to localise TIMP-3 in paraffin sections of human eyes: two with SFD, three with different genetic forms of RP, and two normal.
RESULTS—In the SFD eyes, the thickened Bruch's membrane was strongly TIMP-3 positive except where RPE cells had degenerated. Similarly, in the RP eyes, Bruch's membrane was TIMP-3 positive except where RPE cells were lost, consistent with ongoing RPE mediated turnover of TIMP-3 in this region. In areas of total photoreceptor loss, migrated RPE cells formed cuffs around blood vessels in the RP retinas. Thick, TIMP-3 positive extracellular matrix (ECM) deposits associated with the migrated RPE cells occluded some vascular lumina, correlating with the observed loss of inner retinal neurons in RP.
CONCLUSIONS—TIMP-3 is a component of the increased ECM sequestered in Bruch's membrane in SFD. Further information is needed on normal TIMP-3/ECM interactions in Bruch's membrane and the effect of mutant TIMP-3 on this process. The finding of TIMP-3 accumulations in retinas with RP not caused by TIMP-3 mutations emphasises the importance of ECM remodelling in normal and diseased human eyes.

 Keywords: tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinases-3; Sorsby's fundus dystrophy; retinitis pigmentosa; inherited retinal diseases
PMCID: PMC1722431  PMID: 9924344

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