Purpose: Here the authors describe the structural features of the retina and retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) in postmortem donor eyes of a 56-year-old patient with a homozygous missense RPE65 mutation (Ala132Thr) and correlate the pathology with the patient's visual function last measured at age 51.
Methods: Eyes were enucleated within 13.5 hours after death. Representative areas from the macula and periphery were processed for light and electron microscopy. Immunofluorescence was used to localize the distribution of RPE65, rhodopsin, and cone arrestin. The autofluorescence in the RPE was compared with that of two normal eyes from age-similar donors.
Results: Histologic examination revealed the loss of rods and cones across most areas of the retina, attenuated retinal vessels, and RPE thinning in both eyes. A small number of highly disorganized cones were present in the macula that showed simultaneous labeling with cone arrestin and red/green or blue opsin. RPE65 immunoreactivity and RPE autofluorescence were reduced compared with control eyes in all areas studied. Rhodopsin labeling was observed in rods in the far periphery. The optic nerve showed a reduced number of axons.
Conclusions: The clinical findings of reduced visual acuity, constricted fields, and reduced electroretinograms (ERGs) 5 years before death correlated with the small number of cones present in the macula and the extensive loss of photoreceptors in the periphery. The absence of autofluorescence in the RPE suggests that photoreceptor cells were probably missing across the retina for extended periods of time. Possible mechanisms that could lead to photoreceptor cell death are discussed.