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Histochemical localisation of mitochondrial enzyme activity in human optic nerve and retina
  1. Richard M Andrewsa,
  2. Philip G Griffithsa,
  3. Margaret A Johnsonb,
  4. Douglass M Turnbullb
  1. aDepartment of Ophthalmology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne, bDepartment of Neurology, University of Newcastle upon Tyne
  1. Mr Richard Andrews, Department of Neurology, The Medical School, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH.


AIMS To demonstrate the quantitative distribution of mitochondrial enzymes within the human optic nerve and retina in relation to the pathogenesis of ophthalmic disease.

METHODS Enucleations were performed at the time of multiple organ donation and the optic nerve and peripapillary retina immediately excised en bloc and frozen. Reactivities of the mitochondrial enzymes cytochromec oxidase and succinate dehydrogenase were demonstrated in serial cryostat sections using specific histochemical assays.

RESULTS In the optic nerve the unmyelinated prelaminar and laminar regions were rich in both cytochrome c oxidase and succinate dehydrogenase. Myelination of fibres as they exited the lamina cribrosa was associated with an abrupt reduction in enzyme activity. Within the retina, high levels of enzyme activity were found localised within the retinal ganglion cells and nerve fibre layer, the outer plexiform layer, inner segments of photoreceptors, and the retinal pigment epithelium.

CONCLUSIONS Mitochondrial enzyme activity is preserved in human optic nerve and retina retrieved at the time of multiple organ donation. The distribution of enzyme activity within the eye has implications for the understanding of the pattern of ophthalmic involvement seen in mitochondrial diseases and the site of ganglion cell dysfunction in those patients with optic nerve involvement.

  • mitochondria
  • optic nerve
  • retina

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