Chronic degeneration of the Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) is a precursor to pathological changes in the outer retina. The RPE monolayer, which lies beneath the neuroretina, daily internalises and digests large volumes of spent photoreceptor outer segments. Impaired cargo handling and processing in the endocytic/phagosome and autophagy pathways lead to the accumulation of lipofuscin and pyridinium bis-retinoid A2E aggregates and chemically modified compounds such as malondialdehyde and 4-hydroxynonenal within RPE. These contribute to increased proteolytic and oxidative stress, resulting in irreversible damage to post-mitotic RPE cells and development of blinding conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, Stargardt disease and choroideremia. Here, we review how impaired cargo handling in the RPE results in their dysfunction, discuss new findings from our laboratory and consider how newly discovered roles for lysosomes and the autophagy pathway could provide insights into retinopathies. Studies of these dynamic, molecular events have also been spurred on by recent advances in optics and imaging technology. Mechanisms underpinning lysosomal impairment in other degenerative conditions including storage disorders, α-synuclein pathologies and Alzheimer’s disease are also discussed. Collectively, these findings help transcend conventional understanding of these intracellular compartments as simple waste disposal bags to bring about a paradigm shift in the way lysosomes are perceived.
Scope Oxidative stress and dysregulated intracellular trafficking are associated with an unhealthy diet which underlies pathology. Here, these effects on photoreceptor outer segment (POS) trafficking in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE), a major pathway of disease underlying irreversible sight‐loss, are studied. Methods and results POS trafficking is studied in ARPE‐19 cells using an algorithm‐based quantification of confocal‐immunofluorescence data supported by ultrastructural studies. It is shown that although POS are tightly regulated and trafficked via Rab5, Rab7 vesicles, LAMP1/2 lysosomes and LC3b‐autophagosomes, there is also a considerable degree of variation and flexibility in this process. Treatment with H2O2 and bafilomycin A1 reveals that oxidative stress and dysregulated autophagy target intracellular compartments and trafficking in strikingly different ways. These effects appear limited to POS‐containing vesicles, suggesting a cargo‐specific effect. Conclusion The findings offer insights into how RPE cells cope with stress, and how mechanisms influencing POS transport/degradation can have different outcomes in the senescent retina. These shed new light on cellular processes underlying retinopathies such as age‐related macular degeneration. The discoveries reveal how diet and nutrition can cause fundamental alterations at a cellular level, thus contributing to a better understanding of the diet‐disease axis.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) causes irreversible loss of central vision for which there is no effective treatment. Incipient pathology is thought to occur in the retina for many years before AMD manifests from midlife onwards to affect a large proportion of the elderly. Although genetic as well as non-genetic/environmental risks are recognized, its complex aetiology makes it difficult to identify susceptibility, or indeed what type of AMD develops or how quickly it progresses in different individuals. Here we summarize the literature describing how the Alzheimer's-linked amyloid beta (Aβ) group of misfolding proteins accumulate in the retina. The discovery of this key driver of Alzheimer's disease in the senescent retina was unexpected and surprising, enabling an altogether different perspective of AMD. We argue that Aβ fundamentally differs from other substances which accumulate in the ageing retina, and discuss our latest findings from a mouse model in which physiological amounts of Aβ were subretinally-injected to recapitulate salient features of early AMD within a short period. Our discoveries as well as those of others suggest the pattern of Aβ accumulation and pathology in donor aged/AMD tissues are closely reproduced in mice, including late-stage AMD phenotypes, which makes them highly attractive to study dynamic aspects of Aβ-mediated retinopathy. Furthermore, we discuss our findings revealing how Aβ behaves at single-cell resolution, and consider the long-term implications for neuroretinal function. We propose Aβ as a key element in switching to a diseased retinal phenotype, which is now being used as a biomarker for late-stage AMD.
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is located between the neuroretina and the choroid, and plays a critical role in vision. RPE cells internalise outer segments (OS) from overlying photoreceptors in the daily photoreceptor renewal. Changes to RPE structure are linked with age and retinopathy, which has been described in the past by conventional 2D electron microscopy. We used serial block face scanning electron microscopy (SBF-SEM) to reconstruct RPE cells from the central mouse retina. Three-dimensional-reconstructed OS revealed the RPE to support large numbers of photoreceptors (90–216 per RPE cell). Larger bi-nucleate RPE maintained more photoreceptors, although their cytoplasmic volume was comparable to smaller mono-nucleate RPE supporting fewer photoreceptors. Scrutiny of RPE microvilli and interdigitating OS revealed the angle and surface area of contact between RPE and photoreceptors. Bi-nucleate RPE contained more mitochondria compared to mono-nucleate RPE. Furthermore, bi-nucleate cells contained larger sub-RPE spaces, supporting a likely association with disease. Use of perfusion-fixed tissues ensured the highest possible standard of preservation, providing novel insights into the 3D RPE architecture and changes linked with retinopathy. This study serves as a benchmark for comparing retinal tissues from donor eyes with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other retinopathies.
Early stages of geographic atrophy (GA) age-related macular degeneration is characterised by the demise of photoreceptors, which precedes the loss of underlying retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells. Sight-loss due to GA has no effective treatment; reflecting both the complexity of the disease and the lack of suitable animal models for testing potential therapies. We report the development and characterisation of a laser-induced mouse model with early GA-like pathology. Retinas were lasered at adjacent sites using a 810 nm laser (1.9 J/spot), resulting in the development of confluent, hypopigmented central lesions with well-defined borders. Optical Coherence Tomography over 2-months showed progressive obliteration of photoreceptors with hyper-reflective outer plexiform and RPE/Bruch’s membrane (BrM) layers within lesions, but an unaffected inner retina. Light/electron microscopy after 3-months revealed lesions without photoreceptors, leaving the outer plexiform layer apposed to the RPE. We observed outer segment debris, hypo/hyperpigmented RPE, abnormal apical-basal RPE surfaces and BrM thickening. Lesions had wedge-shaped margins, extended zones of damage, activated Müller cells, microglial recruitment and functional retinal deficits. mRNA studies showed complement and inflammasome activation, microglial/macrophage phagocytosis and oxidative stress providing mechanistic insights into GA. We propose this mouse model as an attractive tool for early GA studies and drug-discovery.
Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is a common, irreversible blinding condition that leads to the loss of central vision. AMD has a complex aetiology with both genetic as well as environmental risks factors, and share many similarities with Alzheimer's disease. Recent findings have contributed significantly to unravelling its genetic architecture that is yet to be matched by molecular insights. Studies are made more challenging by observations that aged and AMD retinas accumulate the highly pathogenic Alzheimer's-related Amyloid beta (Aβ) group of peptides, for which there appears to be no clear genetic basis. Analyses of human donor and animal eyes have identified retinal Aβ aggregates in retinal ganglion cells (RGC), the inner nuclear layer, photoreceptors as well as the retinal pigment epithelium. Aβ is also a major drusen constituent; found correlated with elevated drusen-load and age, with a propensity to aggregate in retinas of advanced AMD. Despite this evidence, how such a potent driver of neurodegeneration might impair the neuroretina remains incompletely understood, and studies into this important aspect of retinopathy remains limited. In order to address this we exploited R28 rat retinal cells which due to its heterogeneous nature, offers diverse neuroretinal cell-types in which to study the molecular pathology of Aβ. R28 cells are also unaffected by problems associated with the commonly used RGC-5 immortalised cell-line, thus providing a well-established model in which to study dynamic Aβ effects at single-cell resolution. Our findings show that R28 cells express key neuronal markers calbindin, protein kinase C and the microtubule associated protein-2 (MAP-2) by confocal immunofluorescence which has not been shown before, but also calretinin which has not been reported previously. For the first time, we reveal that retinal neurons rapidly internalised Aβ1-42, the most cytotoxic and aggregate-prone amongst the Aβ family. Furthermore, exposure to physiological amounts of Aβ1-42 for 24 h correlated with impairment to neuronal MAP-2, a cytoskeletal protein which regulates microtubule dynamics in axons and dendrites. Disruption to MAP-2 was transient, and had recovered by 48 h, although internalised Aβ persisted as discrete puncta for as long as 72 h. To assess whether Aβ could realistically localise to living retinas to mediate such effects, we subretinally injected nanomolar levels of oligomeric Aβ1-42 into wildtype mice. Confocal microscopy revealed the presence of focal Aβ deposits in RGC, the inner nuclear and the outer plexiform layers 8 days later, recapitulating naturally-occurring patterns of Aβ aggregation in aged retinas. Our novel findings describe how retinal neurons internalise Aβ to transiently impair MAP-2 in a hitherto unreported manner. MAP-2 dysfunction is reported in AMD retinas, and is thought to be involved in remodelling and plasticity of post-mitotic neurons. Our insights suggest a molecular pathway by which this could occur in the senescent eye leading to complex diseases such ...
The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) plays a key role in the pathogenesis of several blinding retinopathies. Alterations to RPE structure and function are reported in Age-related Macular Degeneration, Stargardt and Best disease as well as pattern dystrophies. However, the precise role of RPE cells in disease aetiology remains incompletely understood. Many studies into RPE pathobiology have utilised animal models, which only recapitulate limited disease features. Some studies are also difficult to carry out in animals as the ocular space remains largely inaccessible to powerful microscopes. In contrast, in-vitro models provide an attractive alternative to investigating pathogenic RPE changes associated with age and disease. In this article we describe the step-by-step approach required to establish an experimentally versatile in-vitro culture model of the outer retina incorporating the RPE monolayer and supportive Bruch’s membrane (BrM). We show that confluent monolayers of the spontaneously arisen human ARPE-19 cell-line cultured under optimal conditions reproduce key features of native RPE. These models can be used to study dynamic, intracellular and extracellular pathogenic changes using the latest developments in microscopy and imaging technology. We also discuss how RPE cells from human foetal and stem-cell derived sources can be incorporated alongside sophisticated BrM substitutes to replicate the aged/diseased outer retina in a dish. The work presented here will enable users to rapidly establish a realistic in-vitro model of the outer retina that is amenable to a high degree of experimental manipulation which will also serve as an attractive alternative to using animals. This in-vitro model therefore has the benefit of achieving the 3Rs objective of reducing and replacing the use of animals in research. As well as recapitulating salient structural and physiological features of native RPE, other advantages of this model include its simplicity, rapid set-up time and unlimited scope for detailed single-cell resolution and matrix studies.
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