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ABSTRACT

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 lipofnscin, 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 AZE-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.