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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1992 Jan;33(1):1-17.

Aging of the human retina. Differential loss of neurons and retinal pigment epithelial cells.

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  • 1Cullen Eye Institute, Division of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030.


The impact of aging on cell loss in the human retina was examined in foveal and temporal equatorial regions in eyes from 35 donors with ages spanning a 78-yr period from the second to the ninth decade of life. Equatorial cones and retinal pigment epithelial cells (RPE) decreased at uniform rates from the second to the ninth decade, 16 and 14 cells/mm2/yr, respectively. Equatorial rods and cells in the ganglion cell layer (GCL) showed nonuniform rate decreases with age. The rates of rod and GCL cell loss were faster between the second and fourth decades (970 and 9 cells/mm2/yr, respectively) than between the fourth and ninth decades (570-330 and 6-3 cells/mm2/yr). The rod and GCL cell densities at the temporal equator maintained a constant ratio (rods-GCL cell ratio = 103 +/- 0.4, mean +/- standard deviation) and the same reduction slope ratio at different times during aging. Thus, the equatorial rod and GCL cell losses were correlated statistically. The ratio of equatorial photoreceptors to RPE cells showed no significant change with age, suggesting parallel loss of these closely apposed cells. At the foveal center, the variability of cone density between individuals in each decade grouping was large (1.7- to threefold). No significant differences were found in cone or RPE cell densities at the foveal center from the second to ninth decade, suggesting that the densities of foveal cones and RPE cells were stable throughout this period. Foveal RPE density was significantly higher than equatorial RPE density in each age group. No significant difference was found between the equatorial photoreceptor-RPE ratio and foveal cone-RPE ratio in any age group. Cells in the GCL in the fovea decreased by approximately 16% from the second to the sixth decade. These results indicated that (1) rod photoreceptors and cells in the GCL were more vulnerable to loss during aging than cones; (2) photoreceptors and RPE cells showed parallel changes during aging; and (3) the photoreceptor loss accompanying aging was less pronounced in the fovea than in the peripheral retina.

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