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Oxidative damage is implicated in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The dry form of AMD (geographic atrophy) is characterized by loss of RPE, photoreceptors, and macular pigments. The cumulative effects of oxidative stress impact mitochondrial function in RPE. In Sod2flox/floxVMD2-cre mice, the RPE specific deletion of Sod2, the gene for mitochondrial manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), leads to elevated oxidative stress in retina and RPE, and causes changes in the RPE and underlying Bruch’s membrane that share some features of AMD. This study tested the hypothesis that zeaxanthin supplementation would reduce oxidative stress and preserve RPE structure and function in these mice. Zeaxanthin in retina/RPE/choroid and liver was quantified by LC/MS, retinal function and structure were evaluated by electroretinogram (ERG) and spectral domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT), and antioxidant gene expression was measured by RT-PCR. After one month of supplementation, zeaxanthin levels were 5-fold higher in the retina/RPE/choroid and 12-fold higher in liver than in unsupplemented control mice. After four months of supplementation, amplitudes of the ERG a-wave (function of rod photoreceptors) and b-wave (function of the inner retina) were not different in supplemented and control mice. In contrast, the c-wave amplitude (a measure of RPE function) was 28% higher in supplemented mice than in control mice. Higher RPE/choroid expression of antioxidant genes (Cat, Gstm1, Hmox1, Nqo1) and scaffolding protein Sqstm1 were found in supplemented mice than in unsupplemented controls. Reduced nitrotyrosine content in the RPE/choroid was demonstrated by ELISA. Preliminary assessment of retinal ultrastructure indicated that supplementation supported better preservation of RPE structure with more compact basal infoldings and intact mitochondria. We conclude that daily zeaxanthin supplementation protected RPE cells from mitochondrial oxidative stress associated with deficiency in the MnSOD and thereby improved RPE function early in the disease course.

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PLoS ONE, v. 13, issue 9, art. e0203816