Purpose: An image-analysis technique was developed to quantify changes in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and choriocapillaris in eyes of deceased donors with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Methods: Both eyes of two donors with AMD and of one normal control donor were used to develop this technique. After removal of the anterior segments, the eyecups were hemisected through the macula, with the disc included in one half of the eyecup. The choroid with RPE cells was dissected from the sclera and incubated for alkaline phosphatase (APase) activity, and the pigment was partially bleached with H2O2. The APase-incubated choroid was flat embedded and sectioned after image and morphometric analyses. Quantitative computer-assisted morphometric analyses of the two AMD-affected eyes (cases 1 and 2) were compared with analysis of the normal eye of a 70-year-old control subject (case 3).
Results: The right eye in case 1 had geographic atrophy (GA) and demonstrated a large area in the posterior pole with very few RPE cells (90% loss of RPE), but the border of the area of RPE atrophy was not well defined. The density of choroidal blood vessels in this area was reduced 30% to 50%, compared with the same regions in the control eye. No area was completely devoid of choriocapillaris. Clinically undetected choroidal neovascularization (CNV) was observed in the right eye in case 1 in both the periphery and the macula and was generally associated with surviving RPE cells. The right eye in case 2 had GA (areolar RPE atrophy) and demonstrated a reduction in vascular density in the area from disc to macula that was even greater than that in the eye in case 1 (53% reduction in the submacular region). RPE atrophy between the disc and macula was almost complete. The border of the RPE defect was clearly delineated and coincided closely with the area of decreased choroidal vascular density. Surviving choriocapillaris in the area of RPE atrophy was significantly narrower than choriocapillaris in the control subject and in normal areas of the eyes with GA (P < 0.0001).
Conclusions: In these eyes with GA, RPE atrophy was more severe than loss of choriocapillaris. Surviving choriocapillaris in areas with complete RPE loss was highly constricted. The association of surviving RPE cells with CNV suggests that RPE cells may furnish a stimulus for new vessel formation or stabilization.