Best vitelliform macular dystrophy (BMD) is an autosomal dominant inherited macular degenerative disease caused by mutations in the gene BEST1 (formerly VMD2). Prior reports indicate that BMD is characterized histopathologically by accumulation of lipofuscin in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). However, this accumulation has not been quantified and the chemical composition of lipofuscin in BMD has not been examined. In this study we characterize the histopathology of a donor eye from a rare individual homozygous for a mutation (W93C) in BEST1. We find that this individual's disease was not any more severe than has been described for heterozygotes. We then used this tissue to quantify lipofuscin accumulation by enriching intracellular granules from RPE cells on sucrose gradients and counting the granules in each density fraction. Granules from the homozygous donor eye as well as a donor eye from an individual heterozygous for the mutation T6R were compared with age-matched control eyes. Interestingly, the least dense fraction, representing classical lipofuscin granules was either not present or significantly diminished in the BMD donor eyes and the autoflourescence associated with lipofuscin had shifted to denser fractions. However, a substantial enrichment for granules in fractions of higher density was also noted in the BMD samples. Inspection of granules from the homozygous donor eye by electron microscopy revealed a complex abnormal multilobular structure. Analysis of granules by HPLC indicated a ∼1.6- and ∼fourfold overall increase in A2E in the BMD eyes versus age-matched control eyes, with a shift of A2E to more dense granules in the BMD donor eyes. Despite the increase in A2E and total intracellular granules, the RPE in the homozygous donor eyes was relatively well preserved. Based on these data we conclude that the clinical and histopathologic consequences to the homozygous donor were not any more severe than has been reported previously for individuals who are established or presumptive heterozygotes. We find that A2E is a component of the lipofuscin accumulated in BMD and that it is more abundant than in control eyes suggesting that the etiology of BMD is similar to Stargardt's disease and Stargardt-like macular dystrophy. Finally, the changes we observe in the granules suggest that the histopathology and eventual vision loss associated with BMD may be due to defects in the ability of the RPE to fully degrade phagocytosed photoreceptor outer segments.
- macular degeneration
- retinal pigment epithelium
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sensory Systems
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience