Lipofuscin is highly fluorescent material, formed in several tissues but best studied in the eye. The accumulation of lipofuscin in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a hallmark of aging in the eye and has been implicated in various retinal degenerations, including age-related macular degeneration. The bis-retinoid N-retinyl-N-retinylidene ethanolamine (A2E), formed from retinal, has been identified as a byproduct of the visual cycle, and numerous in vitro studies have found toxicity associated with this compound. The compound is known to accumulate in the RPE with age and was the first identified compound extracted from lipofuscin. Our studies have correlated the distribution of lipofuscin and A2E across the human and mouse RPE. Lipofuscin fluorescence was imaged in the RPE from human donors of various ages and from assorted mouse models. The spatial distribution of A2E was determined using matrix-assisted laser desorption-ionization imaging mass spectrometry on both flat-mounted and transversally sectioned RPE tissue. Our data support the clinical observations in humans of strong RPE fluorescence, increasing with age, in the central area of the RPE. However, there was no correlation between the distribution of A2E and lipofuscin, as the levels of A2E were highest in the far periphery and decreased toward the central region. Interestingly, in all the mouse models, A2E distribution and lipofuscin fluorescence correlate well. These data demonstrate that the accumulation of A2E is not responsible for the increase in lipofuscin fluorescence observed in the central RPE with aging in humans.
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