Photoreceptors undergo a constant renewal of their light sensitive outer segments (POSs). In the renewal process, 10% of the POS mass is daily phagocytized by the adjacent retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). POS contain vast amounts of 11-cis retinal and all-trans-retinal, two highly reactive vitamin A aldehydes that spontaneously dimerize into lipid bisretinoids (LBs) and accumulate into RPE lysosomes during phagocytosis. As LBs are refractory to lysosomal hydrolases and RPE cells do not divide, this accumulation is irreversible and results in the formation of lipofuscin granules. Lipofuscin accumulation is toxic for RPE cells through a variety of light-dependent and light-independent mechanisms. Beyond a threshold, RPE cells die resulting in secondary loss of overlying photoreceptors. Currently, there are no effective treatments for retinal disorders associated with genetic or age-associated LB accumulation, such as Stargardt disease and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Thus, there is a great need for medical interventions. Here, we discuss the current understanding of lipofuscin's pathogenicity and the status of different strategies under development to promote LB elimination from RPE lysosomes.
Part of the book: Lysosomes