Hyperreflective foci, OCT progression indicators in age-related macular degeneration, include transdifferentiated retinal pigment epithelium

Academic Article


  • ABSTRACTPurposeBy optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging, hyperreflective foci (HRF) indicate progression risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and are in part attributable to ectopic retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). We hypothesized that ectopic RPE are molecularly distinct from in-layer cells and that their cross-retinal course follows Müller glia.MethodIn clinical OCT (61 eyes, 44 AMD patients, 79.4 ± 7.7 years; 29 female; follow-up = 4.7 ± 0.9 years) one HRF type, RPE plume, was reviewed. Twenty eyes of 20 donors characterized by ex vivo OCT were analyzed by histology (normal, 4; early/intermediate AMD, 7; geographic atrophy (GA), 6; 3 neovascular AMD (nvAMD). Cryosections were stained with antibodies to retinoid (RPE65, CRALPB) and immune (CD68, CD163) markers. In published RPE cellular phenotypes, red immunoreactivity was assessed semi-quantitatively by one observer (none, some cells, all cells).ResultsTrajectories of RPE plume and cellular debris paralleled Müller glia, whether ordered or subsident, near atrophy borders. RPE corresponding to HRF lost immunoreactivity for retinoid markers and gained immunoreactivity for immune markers. Aberrant immunoreactivity appeared in individual in-layer RPE cells and extended to all abnormal phenotypes. Müller glia remained CRALBP-positive. Plume cells approached and contacted retinal capillaries.ConclusionGain- and loss-of-function starts with individual in-layer RPE cells and extends to all abnormal phenotypes. Down-regulated RPE retinoid handling may impair rod vision while Müller glia sustain cone vision. Evidence for RPE transdifferentiation, possibly due to ischemia, supports a proposed process of epithelial-mesenchyme transition. Data can propel new biomarkers and therapeutic strategies for AMD.PrécisHyperreflective foci (HRF) are OCT progression risk indicators in age-related macular degeneration. Abnormal RPE cells including some that correspond to HRF lose immunoreactivity for retinoid markers and gain immunoreactivity for immune markers, indicating molecular transdifferentiation.
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    Author List

  • Cao D; Leong B; Messinger JD; Kar D; Ach T; Yannuzzi LA; Freund KB; Curcio CA