• RPE melanosomes;
  • melanin photobleaching;
  • lipid peroxidation;
  • antioxidant properties;
  • prooxidant action


Melanin in the human retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is believed to play an important photoprotective role. However, unlike in skin, melanosomes in the RPE are rather long-lived organelles, which increases their risk of modifications resulting from significant fluxes of light and high oxygen tension. In this work, we subjected purified bovine RPE melanosomes to prolonged aerobic exposure with intense visible and near ultraviolet radiation and studied the effects of irradiation on the melanosome's capacity to inhibit peroxidation of lipids induced by iron/ascorbate. We found that control, untreated melanosomes show a concentration-dependent inhibition of the accumulation of lipid hydroperoxides and the accompanying consumption of oxygen, but photolysed melanosomes lose their antioxidant efficiency and even became prooxidant. The prooxidant action of partially photobleached melanosomes was observed for pigment granules with a melanin content reduced by about 50% compared with untreated melanosomes, as determined by electron spin resonance spectroscopy. We have previously shown that a similar loss in the content of the RPE melanin occurs during human lifetime, which may suggest that the normal antioxidant properties of human RPE melanin become compromised with aging.