BACKGROUND: The accumulation of abnormal extracellular deposits beneath the retinal pigment epithelium characterises the pathology of early age-related macular degeneration. However, the histopathological threshold at which age-related changes become early AMD is not defined, and the effect of each of the deposits (basal laminar deposit and membranous debris) on disease progression is poorly understood. Evidence suggests that macrophages play a key role in the development of AMD lesions, but the influence of basal laminar deposit (BLamD) and membranous debris on the recruitment and programming of local macrophages has not been explored. Although evidence also suggests that inflammation and innate immunity are involved in AMD, the significance of anti-retinal autoantibodies to disesase pathogenesis is not known.
AIMS: (i) To determine the histopathological threshold that distinguishes normal ageing from early AMD; (ii) to determine the influence of BLamD and membranous debris on disease progression; (iii) to examine whether distinct early AMD phenotypes exist based on clinicopathological evidence; (iv) to determine the histopathological context in which Bruch’s membrane macrophages first found; (v) to examine the relationship between Bruch’s membrane macrophages and subclinical neovascularisation; (vi) to determine if the progressive accumulation of BLamD and membranous debris alters the immunophenotype of Bruch’s membrane macrophages and/or resident choroidal macrophages; (vii) to determine if the anti-retinal autoantibody profile differs significantly between normal individuals and those with early AMD, neovascular AMD or geographic atrophy; (viii) to examine whether baseline anti-retinal autoantibodies can predict progression to advanced AMD in individuals with early AMD; and (ix) to examine whether baseline anti-retinal autoantibodies can predict vision loss in individuals with neovascular AMD.
METHODS:Clinicopathological studies were performed to correlate progressive accumulation of BLamD and membranous debris to fundus characteristics and visual acuity, as well as to sub-macular Bruch’s membrane macrophage count. Immunohistochemical studies were perfomed to determine whether the presence of BLamD and membranous debris altered the programming of Bruch’s membrane or resident choroidal macrophages. The presence of serum anti-retinal autoantibodies was determined by western blotting, and the association with disease progression examined in early and neovascular AMD.
RESULTS: The presence of both basal linear deposit (BLinD) and a continuous layer of BLamD represents threshold early AMD histopathologically, which was seen clinically as a normal fundus in the majority of cases. Membranous debris accumulation appeared to influence the pathway of progression from early AMD to advanced AMD. Bruch’s membrane macrophages were first noted when a continuous layer of BLamD and clinical evidence of early AMD were present, and increased with the amount of membranous debris in eyes with thin BLamD. Eyes with subclinical CNV had high macrophage counts and there was some evidence of altered resident choroidal macrophage programming in the presence of BLamD and membranous debris. Serum anti-retinal autoantibodies were found in a higher proportion of early AMD participants compared with both controls and participants with neovascular AMD, and in a higher proportion of individuals with atrophic AMD compared to those with neovascular AMD. The presence of baseline anti-retinal autoantibodies in participants with early AMD was not associated with progression to advanced AMD. Participants with neovascular AMD lost more vision over 24 months if they had IgG autoantibodies at baseline compared to autoantibody negative participants.
CONCLUSIONS: The finding that eyes with threshold early AMD appear clinically normal underscores the need to utilise more sophisticated tests to enable earlier disease detection. Clinicopathological evidence suggests two distinct early AMD phenotypes, which follow two pathways of AMD progression. Macrophage recruitment and programming may be altered by the presence of BLamD and membranous debris, highlighting the need to further characterise the biology of human resident choroidal macropahges. Anti-retinal autoantibodies can be found in both control and AMD sera, and future approaches that allow the examination of subtle changes in complex repertoires will determine whether they are involved in AMD disease pathogenesis.