Several retinal dystrophies are associated with the accumulation of lipofuscin, a pigment mixture, in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). One of the major fluorophores of this mixture has been identified as the bis-retinoid pyridinium compound, A2-E. Because this compound absorbs incident radiation that is transmitted by the anterior segment of the human eye, photophysical and photochemical studies were performed to determine if A2-E could photosensitize potentially damaging reactions. Steady-state fluorescence measurements indicate that the fluorescence emission maximum and quantum yield are very sensitive to the chemical environment and a correlation between these two parameters and the solvent dielectric constant is observed. Time-resolved absorption experiments of A2-E in pure organic solvents showed no formation of transient species on the timescale of our experiments. However, when these measurements were repeated for A2-E in Triton X-100 micelles, a short-lived (τ ∼ 14 μs), weak absorption was observed. This species is quenched by oxygen (k = 2 × 109 M−1 s−1) and by the addition of the antioxidants, cysteine and N,N,N′,N′-tetramethylphenylenediamine. Quenching of this species by 2,3,5-trimethylhydroquinone results in the formation of the 2,3,5-trimethylsemiquinone free radical and an increase in yield of the A2-E–derived species. Sensitization of the A2-E triplet excited state indicates that the species observed in micelles upon direct excitation is not consistent with the triplet excited state. Based on these data we tentatively assign this absorption to a free radical. In the RPE these initial processes can ultimately lead to damage to the tissue through the formation of peroxides and other oxidized species.
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Vol. 74 • No. 3