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Free Radic Biol Med. 1997;22(7):1229-34.

Lipofuscin accumulation in cultured retinal pigment epithelial cells causes enhanced sensitivity to blue light irradiation.

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  • 1Department of Ophthalmology, University Hospital, Link√∂ping, Sweden.


Lipofuscin accumulates with age within secondary lysosomes of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells of humans and many animals. The autofluorescent lipofuscin pigment has an excitation maximum within the range of visible blue light, while it is emitting in the yellow-orange area. This physico-chemical property of the pigment indicates that it may have a photo-oxidative capacity and, consequently, then should destabilize lysosomal membranes of blue-light exposed RPE. To test this hypothesis, being of relevance to the understanding of age-related macular degeneration, cultures of heavily lipofuscin-loaded RPE cells were blue-light-irradiated and compared with respect to lysosomal stability and cell viability to relevant controls. To rapidly convert primary cultures of RPE, obtained from neonatal rabbits, into aged, lipofuscin-loaded cells, they were allowed to phagocytize artificial lipofuscin that was prepared from outer segments of bovine rods and cones. Following blue-light irradiation, lysosomal membrane stability was measured by vital staining with the lysosomotropic weak base, and metachromatic fluorochrome, acridine orange (AO). Quantifying red (high AO concentration within intact lysosomes with preserved proton gradient over their membranes) and green fluorescence (low AO concentration in nuclei, damaged lysosomes with decreased or lost proton gradients, and in the cytosol) allowed an estimation of the lysosomal membrane stability after blue-light irradiation. Cellular viability was estimated with the delayed trypan blue dye exclusion test. Lipofuscin-loaded blue-light-exposed RPE cells showed a considerably enhanced loss of both lysosomal stability and viability when compared to control cells. It is concluded that the accumulation of lipofuscin within secondary lysosomes of RPE sensitizes these cells to blue light by inducing photo-oxidative alterations of their lysosomal membranes resulting in a presumed leakage of lysosomal contents to the cytosol with ensuing cellular degeneration of apoptotic type. The suggested mechanism may have bearings on the development of age-related macular degeneration.

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