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Autophagy. 2009 May;5(4):563-4. Epub 2009 May 13.

Autophagy, exosomes and drusen formation in age-related macular degeneration.

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Forsythe Laboratory for the Investigation of the Aging Retina, Department of Ophthalmology, Northwestern University School of Medicine, 303 E. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of loss of vision in developed countries. AMD is characterized by a progressive degeneration of the macula of the retina, usually bilateral, leading to a severe decrease in central vision. An early sign of AMD is the appearance of drusen, which are extracellular deposits that accumulate on Bruch's membrane below the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). Drusen are a risk factor for developing AMD. Some of the protein components of drusen are known, yet we know little about the processes that lead to formation of drusen. We have previously reported increased mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) damage and decreased DNA repair enzyme capabilities in the rodent RPE/choroid with age. In this study, we used in vitro modeling of increased mtDNA damage. Under conditions of increased mtDNA damage, autophagy markers and exosome markers were upregulated. In addition, we found autophagy markers and exosome markers in the region of Bruch's membrane in the retinas of old mice. Furthermore, we found that drusen in AMD donor eyes contain markers for autophagy and for exosomes. We speculate that increased autophagy and the release of intracellular proteins via exosomes by the aged RPE may contribute to the formation of drusen. Molecular and cellular changes in the old RPE may underlie susceptibility to genetic mutations that are found in AMD patients.

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