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Mol Vis. 2019 Feb 8;25:79-92. eCollection 2019.

Association of age-related macular degeneration with complement activation products, smoking, and single nucleotide polymorphisms in South Carolinians of European and African descent.

Author information

Department of Ophthalmology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.
Department of Neuroscience, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, Division of Research, Charleston, SC.
Exsera BioLabs, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, CO.
Neurobiology-Neurodegeneration & Repair Laboratory, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.
Department of Public Health Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC.



Smoking and the incidence of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have been linked to an overactive complement system. Here, we examined in a retrospective cohort study whether AMD-associated single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), smoking, ethnicity, and disease status are correlated with blood complement levels.


Population: The study involved 91 AMD patients and 133 controls, which included 73% Americans of European descent (EUR) and 27% Americans of African descent (AFR) in South Carolina. Readouts: Participants were genotyped for 10 SNPs and systemic levels of complement factor H (CFH) activity, and the complement activation products C3a, C5a, and Bb were assessed. Main Outcome Measures: Univariate and multivariable logistic regression models were used to examine associations between AMD status and distinct readouts.


AMD affects EUR individuals more than AFRs. EUR but not AFR AMD subjects revealed higher levels of Factors C3a and Bb. In all subjects, a 10-unit increase in C3a levels was associated with an approximately 10% increase in the odds of being AMD-positive, and C3a and Bb were associated with smoking. While CFH activity levels were not correlated with AMD, a significant interaction was evident between patient age and CFH activity. Finally, EURs had lower odds of AMD with enhanced copies of rs1536304 (VEGFA) and higher odds with more copy numbers of rs3766404 (CFH).


Our results support previous studies of systemic complement components being potential biomarkers for AMD, but they suggest that smoking and disease do not synergistically affect complement levels. We also suggest a novel susceptibility and protective haplotypes in the South Carolinian AMD population. Our studies indicate that augmented complement activation associated with advanced AMD could be attributed to a decrease in CFH activity in younger patients.

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