Vision is hampered in aging and diseases, such as age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. This review collates the fine structural alterations of the human retina in aging and various pathological situations and their links to the disease pathogenesis. It transpires that most changes occur at the level of the retinal pigment epithelium -Bruch's membrane and the photoreceptor layer, causing visual problems to the sufferers. These changes include loss of normal, essential features of these cells and their gradual disappearance. It is important to understand in depth the selective vulnerability of this retinal region to alterations in aging and diseases. Evidence indicates that some of these changes may be mediated by the effects of oxidative stress, inflammation, and chronic light exposure. There are changes also in the inner retinal layers, wherein hypertension, auto-immunity, hypoxia and ischemia could play significant roles in disease pathogenesis. Results of extensive research utilizing animal models have broadened our idea about photoreceptor pathology. However, equivalent knowledge on various changes in aging human retina and in dystrophies that affect the macula is not complete. Since cone photoreceptor and ganglion cell death are a potential problem, it is imperative to know about the basic facts on how they are affected and the mechanisms involved in their death. Thus, prevention of cone and ganglion cell loss should be the target of choice. This review also highlights the significant role played by electron microscopy in understanding such ultrastructural changes and future strategies utilizing it and other techniques to fill some of the existing lacunae and advance our knowledge.
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