Purpose: To determine whether basal laminar drusen differ in their location, ultrastructure, or composition from drusen associated with aging and age-related macular degeneration.
Methods: A paraffin-embedded block from an eye of a patient with basal laminar drusen was obtained. Sections were examined immunohistochemically using a battery of antibodies and lectins directed against drusen-associated proteins and glycoconjugates, respectively. Thin sections were examined by electron microscopy and compared with eyes with age-related macular degeneration.
Results: Drusen in the eye with basal laminar drusen are located between the basal lamina of the retinal pigment epithelium and the inner collagenous layer of Bruch membrane, just as they are in age-related macular degeneration. Two distinct ultrastructural phenotypes are observed in the eye with basal laminar drusen; their substructure is indistinguishable from drusen phenotypes in age-related macular degeneration. Both basal laminar drusen and drusen associated with age-related macular degeneration are bound by the lectins Ricinis communis agglutinin and Arachis hypogea agglutinin (after neuraminidase digestion) and by antivitronectin, anti-HLA-DR, anti-serum amyloid P, and anti-C5 antibodies, but not by antibodies directed against basement membrane-associated heparan sulfate proteoglycan, laminin, fibrinogen, or collagen type IV.
Conclusions: These data support the notion that cuticular or basal laminar drusen are similar to, and perhaps indistinguishable from, drusen associated with age-related macular degeneration and are not nodular or diffuse thickenings of Bruch membrane, as previously suggested. Thus, we suggest basal laminar drusen is a misnomer. This clinical phenotype should be identified as "early adult onset, grouped drusen" or by the eponym "Gass syndrome." Features of basal laminar drusen, such as uniform drusen size, clustered distribution, and angiographic features, do not appear to be related to differences in drusen location, composition, or substructure.