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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e37926. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037926. Epub 2012 May 22.

Spatial distribution of the pathways of cholesterol homeostasis in human retina.

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Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America.



The retina is a light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye and one of the few human organs whose cholesterol maintenance is still poorly understood. Challenges in studies of the retina include its complex multicellular and multilayered structure; unique cell types and functions; and specific physico-chemical environment.


We isolated specimens of the neural retina (NR) and underlying retinal pigment epithelium (RPE)/choroid from six deceased human donors and evaluated them for expression of genes and proteins representing the major pathways of cholesterol input, output and regulation. Eighty-four genes were studied by PCR array, 16 genes were assessed by quantitative real time PCR, and 13 proteins were characterized by immunohistochemistry. Cholesterol distribution among different retinal layers was analyzed as well by histochemical staining with filipin. Our major findings pertain to two adjacent retinal layers: the photoreceptor outer segments of NR and the RPE. We demonstrate that in the photoreceptor outer segments, cholesterol biosynthesis, catabolism and regulation via LXR and SREBP are weak or absent and cholesterol content is the lowest of all retinal layers. Cholesterol maintenance in the RPE is different, yet the gene expression also does not appear to be regulated by the SREBPs and varies significantly among different individuals.


This comprehensive investigation provides important insights into the relationship and spatial distribution of different pathways of cholesterol input, output and regulation in the NR-RPE region. The data obtained are important for deciphering the putative link between cholesterol and age-related macular degeneration, a major cause of irreversible vision loss in the elderly.

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