Retinal pigment epithelial acid lipase activity and lipoprotein receptors: effects of dietary omega-3 fatty acids

Trans Am Ophthalmol Soc. 2002;100:301-38.


Purpose: To show that fish oil-derived omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, delivered to the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) by circulating low-density lipoproteins (LDL), enhance already considerable RPE lysosomal acid lipase activity, providing for more efficient hydrolysis of intralysosomal RPE lipids, an effect that may help prevent development of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD).

Methods: Colorimetric biochemical and histochemical techniques were used to demonstrate RPE acid lipase in situ, in vitro, and after challenge with phagocytic stimuli. Receptor-mediated RPE uptake of fluorescently labeled native, aceto-acetylated, and oxidized LDL was studied in vitro and in vivo. LDL effects on RPE lysosomal enzymes were assessed. Lysosomal enzyme activity was compared in RPE cells from monkeys fed diets rich in fish oil to those from control animals and in cultured RPE cells exposed to sera from these monkeys.

Results: RPE acid lipase activity was substantial and comparable to that of mononuclear phagocytes. Acid lipase activity increased significantly following phagocytic challenge with photoreceptor outer segment (POS) membranes. Receptor-mediated RPE uptake of labeled lipoproteins was determined in vitro. Distinctive uptake of labeled lipoproteins occurred in RPE cells and mononuclear phagocytes in vivo. Native LDL enhanced RPE lysosomal enzyme activity. RPE lysosomal enzymes increased significantly in RPE cells from monkeys fed fish oil-rich diets and in cultured RPE cells exposed to their sera.

Conclusions: RPE cells contain substantial acid lipase for efficient metabolism of lipids imbibed by POS phagocytosis and LDL uptake. Diets rich in fish oil-derived omega-3 fatty acids, by enhancing acid lipase, may reduce RPE lipofuscin accumulation, RPE oxidative damage, and the development of ARMD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acyltransferases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • Lipase / metabolism*
  • Lipoproteins, LDL / metabolism
  • Lysosomes / enzymology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Phagocytosis / physiology
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / cytology
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / drug effects
  • Pigment Epithelium of Eye / enzymology*
  • Rabbits
  • Receptors, Lipoprotein / metabolism*
  • Rod Cell Outer Segment / metabolism
  • Triglycerides / metabolism


  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Lipoproteins, LDL
  • Receptors, Lipoprotein
  • Triglycerides
  • Acyltransferases
  • cholesteryl ester synthetase
  • Lipase