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Autophagy. 2009 May;5(4):494-501. Epub 2009 May 28.

ARPE-19 retinal pigment epithelial cells are highly resistant to oxidative stress and exercise strict control over their lysosomal redox-active iron.

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  • 1Division of Pharmacology, Faculty of Health Sciences, Link√∂ping University, Link√∂ping, Ostergotland, Sweden.


Normal retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells are postmitotic, long-lived and basically not replaced. Daily, they phagocytose substantial amounts of lipid-rich material (photoreceptor outer segment discs), and they do so in the most oxygenated part of the body-the retina. One would imagine that this state of affairs should be associated with a rapid formation of the age pigment lipofuscin (LF). However, LF accumulation is slow and reaches significant amounts only late in life when, if substantial, it often coincides with or causes age-related macular degeneration. LF formation occurs inside the lysosomal compartment as a result of iron-catalyzed peroxidation and polymerization. This process requires phagocytosed or autophagocytosed material under degradation, but also the presence of redox-active low mass iron and hydrogen peroxide. To gain some information on how RPE cells are able to evade LF formation, we investigated the response of immortalized human RPE cells (ARPE-19) to oxidative stress with/without the protection of a strong iron-chelator. The cells were found to be extremely resistant to hydrogen peroxide-induced lysosomal rupture and ensuing cell death. This marked resistance to oxidative stress was not explained by enhanced degradation of hydrogen peroxide, but to a certain extent further increased by the potent lipophilic iron chelator SIH. The cells were also able to survive, and even replicate, at high concentrations of SIH and showed a high degree of basal autophagic flux. We hypothesize that RPE cells have a highly developed capacity to keep lysosomal iron in a nonredox-active form, perhaps by pronounced autophagy of iron-binding proteins in combination with an ability to rapidly relocate low mass iron from the lysosomal compartment.

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