Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Original article
Basement membrane changes in capillaries of the ageing human retina
  1. Michael B Powner1,
  2. Andrew Scott1,
  3. Meidong Zhu2,
  4. Peter M G Munro1,
  5. Alexander J E Foss3,
  6. Gregory S Hageman3,
  7. Mark C Gillies4,
  8. Marcus Fruttiger1
  1. 1MacTel Laboratory Research Group, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, London, UK
  2. 2Save Sight Institute, University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  3. 3Department of Ophthalmology, Nottingham University Hospital, Nottingham, UK
  4. 4John A Moran Eye Center, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Marcus Fruttiger, Department of Cell Biology, UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, 11–43 Bath Street, London EC1V 9EL, UK; m.fruttiger{at}


Objectives The ultrastructural appearance of retinal capillaries can yield important information about disease mechanisms, but is not well characterised in human post mortem samples. We therefore aimed to create a baseline for the appearance of capillaries and establish how this is influenced by post mortem fixation delays and donor age.

Methods Electron microscopy was used to characterise retinal capillaries in 20 anonymous donors (with no known eye diseases) of various ages and with various post mortem fixation delays. In addition, samples from six patients with conditions that are known to affect the retinal vasculature (four cases of type 2 diabetes without diabetic retinopathy, one case of diabetic retinopathy and one case of macular telangiectasia type 2) were analysed.

Results Vacuoles were found in capillary basement membranes at the vessel–glia interface in all samples, from both the normal and disease cases. Vacuole frequency increased with donor age but was not influenced by post mortem fixation delays.

Conclusion Vacuoles in the basement membrane are a normal feature of adult human retinal capillaries and do not indicate disease. Their incidence increases with age and might be a contributing factor to late-onset pathologies of the retinal vasculature.

  • Vasculature
  • retina
  • ageing
  • capillaries
  • basement membrane
  • retina
  • pathology

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • Funding Lowy Medical Research Institute, NIH R24 EY017404 (GSH), Fight for Sight (UK) and an unrestricted grant to the University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences from Research to Prevent Blindness.

  • Competing interests None to declare.

  • Ethics approval Institutional Review Board/Ethics Committee approval for post mortem eye tissue collection and storage was in place at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, University of Sydney, University of Iowa Department of Ophthalmology and the Centre for Macaques, Salisbury, UK.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.