The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a single layer of post-mitotic cells, which functions both as a selective barrier to and a vegetative regulator of the overlying photoreceptor layer, thereby playing a key role in its maintenance. Through the expression and activity of specific proteins, it regulates the transport of nutrients and waste products to and from the retina, it contributes to outer segment renewal by ingesting and degrading the spent tips of photoreceptor outer segments, it protects the outer retina from excessive high-energy light and light-generated oxygen reactive species and maintains retinal homeostasis through the release of diffusible factors. The ageing characteristics of the RPE suggest that in addition to cell loss, pleomorphic changes and loss of intact melanin granules, significant metabolic changes occur resulting, at least in part, from the intracellular accumulation of lipofuscin. This pigment has been shown to be highly phototoxic and has been linked to several oxidative changes, some leading to cell death. While the aetiology of age-related macular degeneration is complex and is as yet unresolved, it is likely that accelerated ageing-like changes in the RPE play a fundamental role in the development of this condition.
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Boulton, M., Dayhaw-Barker, P. The role of the retinal pigment epithelium: Topographical variation and ageing changes. Eye 15, 384–389 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/eye.2001.141
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