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Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1998 Apr;39(5):820-7.

Prevention of ornithine cytotoxicity by proline in human retinal pigment epithelial cells.

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Department of Ophthalmology, Kansai Medical University, Osaka, Japan.



To investigate the relationship between ornithine-delta-aminotransferase (OAT) deficiency and ornithine accumulation and the specific degeneration of retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells in gyrate atrophy.


Human RPE cells, human hepatoma cells, and human fibroblast cells were treated with 5-fluoromethylornithine (5-FMOrn), a specific irreversible inhibitor of OAT. Ornithine cytotoxicity was determined by using a [3H]thymidine incorporation assay and immunohistochemical staining for cytokeratin. The effects of various metabolites of ornithine and arginine, such as creatine, creatine phosphate, I-delta 1-pyrroline-5-carboxylic acid (L-P5C), and proline, which may be deficient in gyrate atrophy on RPE cell damage by ornithine, were determined by the same procedures.


When the human RPE cells, HepG2 hepatoma cells, and WI-38 fibroblast cells were treated with 0.5 mM 5-FMOrn for 30 minutes, which inactivated OAT, ornithine exhibited severe time- and dose-dependent inhibition of DNA synthesis in the human RPE cells but not in the HepG2 hepatoma cells or WI-38 fibroblast cells. The inhibition of DNA synthesis was accompanied by drastic changes in morphologic appearance, disorganization of the cytoskeleton, and cell death. Ornithine or 5-FMOrn alone did not exhibit such cytotoxicity to the RPE cells. Proline prevented the cytotoxicity of ornithine.


These findings suggest that an elevated level of ornithine combined with an increased sensitivity to ornithine as a result of OAT deficiency may be crucial to the specific RPE degeneration in gyrate atrophy. They suggest also that abnormalities of proline metabolism may be involved in the progress of gyrate atrophy.

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