Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) leads to dysfunction and degeneration of retinal photoreceptor cells. This disease is characterized, in part, by the development of extracellular deposits called drusen. The presence of drusen is correlated with the development of AMD, although little is known about drusen composition or biogenesis. Drusen form within Bruch's membrane, a stratified extracellular matrix situated between the retinal pigmented epithelium and choriocapillaris. Because of this association, we sought to determine whether drusen contain known extracellular matrix constituents. Antibodies directed against a battery of extracellular matrix molecules were screened on drusen-containing sections from human donor eyes, including donors with clinically documented AMD. Antibodies directed against vitronectin, a plasma protein and extracellular matrix component, exhibit intense and consistent reactivity with drusen; antibodies to the conformationally distinct, heparin binding form of human vitronectin are similarly immunoreactive. No differences in vitronectin immunoreactivity between hard and soft drusen, or between macular and extramacular regions, have been observed. RT-PCR analyses revealed that vitronectin mRNA is expressed in the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE)-choroidal complex and cultured RPE cells. These data document that vitronectin is a major constituent of human ocular drusen and that vitronectin mRNA is synthesized locally. Based on these data, we propose that vitronectin may participate in the pathogenesis of AMD.