Age-related macular degeneration--emerging pathogenetic and therapeutic concepts

Ann Med. 2006;38(7):450-71. doi: 10.1080/07853890600946724.


Today, the average life expectancy in developed nations is over 80 years and climbing. And yet, the quality of life during those additional years is often significantly diminished by the effects of age-related, degenerative diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in the elderly worldwide. AMD is characterized by a progressive loss of central vision attributable to degenerative and neovascular changes in the macula, a highly specialized region of the ocular retina responsible for fine visual acuity. Estimates gathered from the most recent World Health Organization (WHO) global eye disease survey conservatively indicate that 14 million persons are blind or severely visually impaired because of AMD. The disease has a tremendous impact on the physical and mental health of the geriatric population and their families and is becoming a major public health burden. Currently, there is neither a cure nor a means to prevent AMD. Palliative treatment options for the less prevalent, late-stage 'wet' form of the disease include anti-neovascular agents, photodynamic therapy and thermal laser. There are no current therapies for the more common 'dry' AMD, except for the use of antioxidants that delay progression in 20%-25% of eyes. New discoveries, however, are beginning to provide a much clearer picture of the relevant cellular events, genetic factors, and biochemical processes associated with early AMD. Recently, compelling evidence has emerged that the innate immune system and, more specifically, uncontrolled regulation of the complement alternative pathway plays a central role in the pathobiology of AMD. The complement Factor H gene--which encodes the major inhibitor of the complement alternative pathway--is the first gene identified in multiple independent studies that confers a significant genetic risk for the development of AMD. The emergence of this new paradigm of AMD pathogenesis should hasten the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches for this disease that will dramatically improve the quality of our prolonged lifespan.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging
  • Blindness / etiology
  • Blindness / physiopathology
  • Complement Activation / genetics
  • Complement Activation / immunology
  • Disease Progression
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / genetics
  • Humans
  • Macular Degeneration* / epidemiology
  • Macular Degeneration* / genetics
  • Macular Degeneration* / therapy
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care
  • Retinal Drusen / complications
  • Risk Factors