The photoreactivity of the retinal age pigment lipofuscin

J Biol Chem. 1999 Aug 20;274(34):23828-32. doi: 10.1074/jbc.274.34.23828.


The presence of the age pigment lipofuscin is associated with numerous age-related diseases. In the retina lipofuscin is located within the pigment epithelium where it is exposed to high oxygen and visible light, a prime environment for the generation of reactive oxygen species. Although we, and others, have demonstrated that retinal lipofuscin is a photoinducible generator of reactive oxygen species it is unclear how this may translate into cell damage. The position of lipofuscin within the lysosome infers that irradiated lipofuscin is liable to cause oxidative damage to either the lysosomal membrane or the lysosomal enzymes. We have found that illumination of lipofuscin with visible light is capable of extragranular lipid peroxidation, enzyme inactivation, and protein oxidation. These effects, which were pH-dependent, were significantly reduced by the addition of the antioxidants, superoxide dismutase and 1,4-diazabicyclo(2,2,2)-octane, confirming a role for both the superoxide anion and singlet oxygen. We postulate that lipofuscin may compromise retinal cell function by causing loss of lysosomal integrity and that this may be a major contributory factor to the pathology associated with retinal light damage and diseases such as age-related macular degeneration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / metabolism
  • Catalase / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Light
  • Lipid Peroxidation / drug effects
  • Lipofuscin / pharmacology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Lipofuscin
  • Proteins
  • Catalase