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Increased choroidal mast cells and their degranulation in age-related macular degeneration
  1. Imran A Bhutto1,
  2. D Scott McLeod1,
  3. Tian Jing2,
  4. Janet S Sunness3,4,
  5. Johanna M Seddon5,6,
  6. Gerard A Lutty1
  1. 1Department of Ophthalmology, Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2Biostatistics Consulting Center, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  3. 3Hoover Low Vision Rehabilitation Services, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  4. 4Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  5. 5Ophthalmic Epidemiology and Genetics Service, New England Eye Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  6. 6Department of Ophthalmology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Gerard A Lutty, Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute, M041 Smith Building, Johns Hopkins Hospital, 400 North Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21287-9115, USA; glutty{at}


Background/aims Inflammation has been implicated in age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This study investigates the association of mast cells (MCs), a resident choroidal inflammatory cell, with pathological changes in AMD.

Methods Human donor eyes included aged controls (n=10), clinically diagnosed with early AMD (n=8), geographic atrophy (GA, n=4) and exudative AMD (n=11). The choroids were excised and incubated for alkaline phosphatase (APase; blood vessels) and non-specific esterase activities (MCs). Degranulated (DG) and non-degranulated MCs in four areas of posterior choroid (nasal, non-macular, paramacular and submacular) were counted in flat mounts (4–6 fields/area). Choroids were subsequently embedded in JB-4 and sectioned for histological analyses.

Results The number of MCs was significantly increased in all choroidal areas in early AMD (p=0.0006) and in paramacular area in exudative AMD (139.44±55.3 cells/mm2; p=0.0091) and GA (199.08±82.0 cells/mm2; p=0.0019) compared with the aged controls. DG MCs were also increased in paramacular (p=0.001) and submacular choroid (p=0.02) in all forms of AMD. Areas with the greatest numbers of DG MCs had loss of choriocapillaris (CC). Sections revealed that the MCs were widely distributed in Sattler's and Haller's layer in the choroidal stroma in aged controls, whereas MCs were frequently found in close proximity with CC in GA and exudative AMD and in choroidal neovascularisation (CNV).

Conclusion Increased MC numbers and degranulation were observed in all AMD choroids. These results suggest that MC degranulation may contribute to the pathogenesis of AMD: death of CC and retinal pigment epithelial and CNV formation. The proteolytic enzymes released from MC granules may result in thinning of AMD choroid.

  • Choroid
  • Inflammation
  • Macula
  • Neovascularisation
  • Pathology

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