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Dongfeng Cao, Belinda Leong, Jeffrey D. Messinger, Deepayan Kar, Thomas Ach, Lawrence A. Yannuzzi, K. Bailey Freund, Christine A. Curcio; Hyperreflective Foci, Optical Coherence Tomography Progression Indicators in Age-Related Macular Degeneration, Include Transdifferentiated Retinal Pigment Epithelium. Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. 2021;62(10):34. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/iovs.62.10.34.
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By optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging, hyperreflective foci (HRF) indicate progression risk for advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and are in part attributable to ectopic retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). We hypothesized that ectopic RPE are molecularly distinct from in-layer cells and that their cross-retinal course follows Müller glia.
In clinical OCT (61 eyes, 44 patients with AMD, 79.4 ± 7.7 years; 29 female; follow-up = 4.7 ± 0.9 years), one HRF type, RPE plume (n = 129 in 4 morphologies), was reviewed. Twenty eyes of 20 donors characterized by ex vivo OCT were analyzed by histology (normal, 4; early/intermediate AMD, 7; geographic atrophy, 6; neovascular AMD, 3). Cryosections were stained with antibodies to retinoid (RPE65, CRALPB) and immune (CD68, CD163) markers. In published RPE cellular phenotypes, red immunoreactivity was assessed semiquantitatively by one observer (none, some cells, all cells).
Plume morphology evolved over time and many resolved (40%). Trajectories of RPE plume and cellular debris paralleled Müller glia, including near atrophy borders. RPE corresponding to HRF lost immunoreactivity for retinoid markers and gained immunoreactivity for immune markers. Aberrant immunoreactivity appeared in individual in-layer RPE cells and extended to all abnormal phenotypes. Müller glia remained CRALBP positive. Plume cells approached and contacted retinal capillaries.
HRF are indicators not predictors of overall disease activity. Gain and loss of function starts with individual in-layer RPE cells and extends to all abnormal phenotypes. Evidence for RPE transdifferentiation, possibly due to ischemia, supports a proposed process of epithelial–mesenchyme transition. Data can propel new biomarkers and therapeutic strategies for AMD.
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