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Ultrastructural changes in the melanocytes of aging human choroid.
Retinal pigment epithelial cells as well as choroidal melanocytes (CM) possess melanin granules. The former show clear, age-related changes (formation of lipofuscin granules with a concomitant decrease in melanin content); however, data on changes in the CM with aging are fairly limited. We examined CM in human macular and mid-peripheral areas by light- and transmission electron microscopy in 50-94 year-old donor eyes (N=12). Unlike in the choroid of lower ages, the melanocytes from aging choroid (>75 years) showed partial fusion of about 8-15 melanosomes, forming rosettes-like structures. Besides, there was evidence of emptiness in cytoplasm caused by the loss of melanosomes in aged CM, as was confirmed by quantification in macular part of choroid. In advanced aged eyes (85-94-year-old), the CM possessed many lipid droplets as well as irregular lipofuscin granules, the latter had a tendency to fuse with melanosomes, as happens in aged retinal pigment epithelium. Macrophages in their cytoplasm contained abundant irregular as well as clumped melanosomes of variable size, suggesting that damaged granules/melanocytes are cleared by these phagocytes. These obvious changes in the CM are likely to make the choroid prone to damage by visible light.