The photoreceptor/RPE complex must maintain a delicate balance between maximizing the absorption of photons for vision and retinal image quality while simultaneously minimizing the risk of photodamage when exposed to bright light. We review the recent discovery of two new effects of light exposure on the photoreceptor/RPE complex in the context of current thinking about the causes of retinal phototoxicity. These effects are autofluorescence photobleaching in which exposure to bright light reduces lipofuscin autofluorescence and, at higher light levels, RPE disruption in which the pattern of autofluorescence is permanently altered following light exposure. Both effects occur following exposure to visible light at irradiances that were previously thought to be safe. Photopigment, retinoids involved in the visual cycle, and bisretinoids in lipofuscin have been implicated as possible photosensitizers for photochemical damage. The mechanism of RPE disruption may follow either of these paths. On the other hand, autofluorescence photobleaching is likely an indicator of photooxidation of lipofuscin. The permanent changes inherent in RPE disruption might require modification of the light safety standards. AF photobleaching recovers after several hours although the mechanisms by which this occurs are not yet clear. Understanding the mechanisms of phototoxicity is all the more important given the potential for increased susceptibility in the presence of ocular diseases that affect either the visual cycle and/or lipofuscin accumulation. In addition, knowledge of photochemical mechanisms can improve our understanding of some disease processes that may be influenced by light exposure, such as some forms of Leber's congenital amaurosis, and aid in the development of new therapies. Such treatment prior to intentional light exposures, as in ophthalmic examinations or surgeries, could provide an effective preventative strategy.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.