Characteristics of normal human retinal pigment epithelium cells with extremes of autofluorescence or intracellular granule count

in: Annals of Eye Science (2021)
Bermond, Katharina; Berlin, Andreas; Tarau, Ioana-Sandra; Wobbe, Christina; Heintzmann, Rainer; Curcio, Christine A.; Sloan, Kenneth R.; Ach, Thomas
Background: Cells of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) accumulate different kinds of granules (lipofuscin, melanolipofuscin, melanosomes) within their cell bodies, with lipofuscin and melanolipofuscin being autofluorescent after blue light excitation. High amounts of lipofuscin granules within the RPE have been associated with the development of RPE cell death and age-related macular degeneration (AMD); however, this has not been confirmed in histology so far. Here, based on our previous dataset of RPE granule characteristics, we report the characteristics of RPE cells from human donor eyes that show either high or low numbers of intracellular granules or high or low autofluorescence (AF) intensities. Methods: RPE flatmounts of fifteen human donors were examined using high-resolution structured illumination microscopy (HR-SIM) and laser scanning microscopy (LSM). Autofluorescent granules were analyzed regarding AF phenotype and absolute number of granules. In addition, total AF intensity per cell and granule density (number of granules per cell area) were determined. For the final analysis, RPE cells with total granule number below 5th or above the 95th percentile, or a total AF intensity ± 1.5 standard deviations above or below the mean were included, and compared to the average RPE cell at the same location. Data are presented as mean ± standard deviation. Results: Within 420 RPE cells examined, 42 cells were further analyzed due to extremes regarding total granule numbers. In addition, 20 RPE cells had AF 1.5 standard deviations below, 28 RPE cells above the mean local AF intensity. Melanolipofuscin granules predominate in RPE cells with low granule content and low AF intensity. RPE cells with high granule content have nearly twice (1.8 times) as many granules as an average RPE cell. Conclusions: In normal eyes, outliers regarding autofluorescent granule load and AF intensity signals are rare among RPE cells, suggesting that granule deposition and subsequent AF follows intrinsic control mechanisms at a cellular level. The AF of a cell is related to the composition of intracellular granule types. Ongoing studies using AMD donor eyes will examine possible disease related changes in granule distribution and further put lipofuscin´s role in aging and AMD further into perspective.

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