Aims/background: The morphological changes in Bruch's membrane and its constituent collagen seen during aging have been studied extensively but the chemical nature of the collagen and any aging changes have not previously been evaluated.
Methods: A method for preparing purified Bruch's membrane from human cadaver eyes by dissection preceded by trypsin digestion was developed. Following pepsin digestion, the constituent collagens were analysed by SDS-PAGE and by immunoblotting. Cyanogen bromide digestion was used to ascertain the solubility of the collagen and the proportion of type I to type III collagen. After hydrolysis of Bruch's membrane samples the constituent amino acids and collagen crosslinks were measured.
Results: The presence of collagen types I, III, IV, and V in Bruch's membrane was confirmed. The proportion of type III collagen as a percentage of total fibrous collagens was calculated as being between 35% and 39%, with no significant difference between different macular and peripheral sites or with age. There was a highly significant decline in the solubility of Bruch's membrane collagen with age, from near 100% in the first decade of life to 40-50% in the ninth decade at both macular and peripheral sites. There was no significant change in the amount of enzymatically formed collagen crosslinks with age. Amino acid analysis indicated a significant increase in the amount of non-collagen protein with age in macular but not peripheral sites.
Conclusion: Changes in the constituent collagens may contribute to the accumulation of debris in Bruch's membrane with age and interfere with the function of the retinal pigment epithelium, with subsequent consequences for the overlying photoreceptors.