The project macula retinal pigment epithelium grading system for histology and optical coherence tomography in age-related macular degeneration

Academic Article


  • Purpose. To seek pathways of retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) fate in age-related macular degeneration via a morphology grading system; provide nomenclature, visualization targets, and metrics for clinical imaging and model systems. Methods. Donor eyes with geographic atrophy (GA) or choroidal neovascularization (CNV) and one GA eye with previous clinical spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SDOCT) imaging were processed for histology, photodocumented, and annotated at predefined locations. Retinal pigment epithelial cells contained spindle-shaped melanosomes, apposed a basal lamina or basal laminar deposit (BLamD), and exhibited recognizable morphologies. Thicknesses and unbiased estimates of frequencies were obtained. Results. In 13 GA eyes (449 locations), ‘Shedding,’ ‘Sloughed,’ and ‘Dissociated’ morphologies were abundant; 22.2% of atrophic locations had ‘Dissociated’ RPE. In 39 CNV eyes (1363 locations), 37.3% of locations with fibrovascular/fibrocellular scar had ‘Entombed’ RPE; ‘Sloughed,’ ‘Dissociated,’ and ‘Bilaminar’ morphologies were abundant. Of abnormal RPE, CNV and GA both had ~35% ‘Sloughed’/’Intraretinal,’ with more Intraretinal in CNV (9.5% vs. 1.8%). ‘Shedding’ cells associated with granule aggregations in BLamD. The RPE layer did not thin, and BLamD remained thick, with progression. Granule-containing material consistent with three morphologies correlated to SDOCT hyperreflective foci in the previously examined GA patient. Conclusions. Retinal pigment epithelium morphology indicates multiple pathways in GA and CNV. Atrophic/scarred areas have numerous cells capable of transcribing genes and generating imaging signals. Shed granule aggregates, possibly apoptotic, are visible in SDOCT, as are ‘Dissociated’ and ‘Sloughed’ cells. The significance of RPE phenotypes is addressable in longitudinal, high-resolution imaging in clinic populations. Data can motivate future molecular phenotyping studies.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Zanzottera EC; Messinger JD; Ach T; Theodore Smith R; Bailey Freund K; Curcio CA
  • Start Page

  • 3253
  • End Page

  • 3268
  • Volume

  • 56
  • Issue

  • 5