The retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a monolayer of highly pigmented cells lining the inner aspect of Bruch's membrane. This pigmentation is due to eumelanin and a possible antioxidant role of melanin is reported here. The photo-oxidation of A2E, a constituent of RPE lipofuscin, leads to the sequential addition of up to nine oxygen atoms and/or the addition or loss of two hydrogen atoms. These photo-oxidations were investigated in the presence and absence of either calf or human RPE melanin in A2E-laden RPE cells. It was found that calf melanin was protective against the photo-oxidation of A2E, with an inhibition of oxidation of up to 50% in the case of the addition of two oxygen atoms. Calf melanin was also protective against blue light–induced damage to RPE cells. In addition this ability appears to decrease in humans as they grow older. With aging, a melanin-lipofuscin complex called melanolipofuscin forms. It is suggested that the oxidation or photo-oxidation of A2E in vivo may contribute to the age-related deterioration of the anti-oxidant role of RPE melanin and lead to various retinal disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration.
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Vol. 82 • No. 2