Decreased thickness and integrity of the macular elastic layer of Bruch's membrane correspond to the distribution of lesions associated with age-related macular degeneration

Am J Pathol. 2005 Jan;166(1):241-51. doi: 10.1016/S0002-9440(10)62248-1.


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of blindness in the elderly. In its severest form, choroidal neovessels breach the macular Bruch's membrane, an extracellular matrix compartment comprised of elastin and collagen laminae, and grow into the retina. We sought to determine whether structural properties of the elastic lamina (EL) correspond to the region of the macula that is predilected toward degeneration in AMD. Morphometric assessment of the macular and extramacular regions of 121 human donor eyes, with and without AMD, revealed a statistically significant difference in both the integrity (P < 0.0001) and thickness (P < 0.0001) of the EL between the macular and extramacular regions in donors of all ages. The EL was three to six times thinner and two to five times less abundant in the macula than in the periphery. The integrity of the macular EL was significantly lower in donors with early-stage AMD (P = 0.028), active choroidal neovascularization (P = 0.020), and disciform scars (P = 0.003), as compared to unaffected, age-matched controls. EL thickness was significantly lower only in individuals with disciform scars (P = 0.008). The largest gaps in macular EL integrity were significantly larger in all categories of AMD (each P < 0.0001), as compared to controls. EL integrity, thickness, and gap length in donors with geographic atrophy did not differ from those of controls. These structural properties of the macular EL correspond spatially to the distribution of macular lesions associated with AMD and may help to explain why the macula is more susceptible to degenerative events that occur in this disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Bruch Membrane / pathology*
  • Bruch Membrane / ultrastructure
  • Extracellular Matrix / pathology
  • Eye Banks
  • Humans
  • Macula Lutea / pathology*
  • Macula Lutea / ultrastructure
  • Macular Degeneration / pathology*
  • Microscopy, Electron