Fluorescent material generated in the human retina accumulates within lipofuscin (HLF) granules of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) during aging. We have been investigating the possible light-induced contribution of these fluorophores to various diseases including age-related macular degeneration. Our studies have shown that some of the fluorescent components of HLF are products of the reaction of retinaldehyde with ethanolamine and that synthetic mixtures of this reaction can serve as a useful model for photophysical studies. Previous research by us has demonstrated that irradiation of either natural or synthetic lipofuscin resulted in the formation of a triplet state and possibly a free radical. Here EPR studies were performed to verify the formation of that radical. The UV irradiation of either synthetic or natural human retinal lipofuscin extracts in oxygen-free methanol led to the formation of a 5,5-dimethylpyrroline-N-oxide (DMPO) spin-trapped carbon-centered radical resulting from either hydrogen atom or electron abstraction from solvent molecules. In the presence of oxygen superoxide was formed, which was observed as a DMPO adduct. It is concluded that certain components of the chloroform-soluble fluorophores of human RPE lipofuscin granules and the fluorescent reaction products of retinaldehyde and ethanolamine are photophysically similar but not the same. Electron or hydrogen abstraction from a substrate by these fluorophores in vivo and the resulting radical products may contribute to the age-related decline of RPE function and blue light damage in the retina.
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