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Measurement of drusen and their correlation with visual symptoms in patients affected by age-related macular degeneration

R. Pinelli, M. Bertelli, E. Scaffidi, F. Fulceri, C.L. Busceti, F. Biagioni, F. Fornai


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common retinal disorder, which became more and more prevalent in the last decades. AMD is now the most prevalent cause of blindness in the western world. The disorder is classified into two phenotypes named dry and wet AMD. This is based on the recruitment of novel blood vessels and inflammatory exudates in wet AMD. In both phenotypes, the pathological hallmark is the presence of proteinaceous aggregates called drusen, which mostly accumulate between the choroid and the retinal pigment. Drusen in dry AMD represent the evident pathological finding although they are present, though less defined, in wet AMD. In AMD drusen are supposed to be a pathogenic trigger of the disorder. In fact, drusen may mechanically alter retinal function. A novel hypothesis exists, suggesting that a metabolic defect (systemic or focal within the retinal pigment epithelium) may be the real determinant of visual impairment, while causing the concomitant accumulation of proteinaceous debris and lipids forming the drusen. Here we face such an issue by analyzing the retinal anatomy to correlate visual impairment with the occurrence of drusen number, size and the extent of a drusenoid area in the foveal region. A comparison is made with wet AMD where new vessels and retinal exudates prevail. The study is carried out in 120 patients affected by dry or wet AMD and 21 patients where paradoxical findings are described. The main question consists in inferring whether the occurrence of visual impairment is due, in fact, to a drusen-dependent mechanical damage or drusen just occurs as an independent consequence of an upstream metabolic alteration, which concomitantly impairs the visual process. The present data indicate that, despite a significant difference in visual function between mild and severe AMD patients in the amount of drusen exists, a strong correlation between drusen and visual impairment does not occur. This suggests that drusen and visual deterioration develop as a consequence of similar upstream biochemical alterations but it is likely that drusen do not produce visual deterioration. This is strengthened here by extreme clinical conditions, where visual impairment is severe with a slight alteration in the planar pattern of the retina or, vice versa an extended drusenoid area occurs concomitantly with fair visual acuity, contrast sensitivity and lack of metamorphopsia. A biochemical analysis of key areas in the function of specific domains in the pigment epithelium as described in the accompanying manuscript should help to better disclose the real morpho-functional deficit, which takes place in AMD.


age-related macular degeneration; neurodegeneration; autophagy; drusen; metamorphopsia; retinal anatomy; pigment epithelium.

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