Retinal Pigment Epithelium FAQs

What is the Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) and what is its function in the eye?

The Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) is a layer of pigmented cells located between the neural retina and the choroid in the eye. It plays several crucial roles in visual function, including the absorption of excess light to prevent light scatter, the transportation of nutrients to the photoreceptors, the phagocytosis of shed photoreceptor outer segments (maintaining photoreceptor health), and the secretion of growth factors. The RPE is also essential in the regeneration of visual pigments.

How does the RPE affect eye diseases?

The RPE is implicated in various retinal diseases. Its dysfunction or damage can lead to serious eye conditions, such as Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), Retinitis Pigmentosa, and certain forms of inherited retinal dystrophies. In AMD, for example, the deterioration of RPE cells leads to a loss of support for photoreceptors, resulting in vision loss. The health of RPE cells is crucial for maintaining retinal function and preventing degenerative diseases.

Can RPE cells be regenerated or replaced for therapeutic purposes?

There has been significant research in the field of regenerative medicine focusing on RPE cells. Techniques such as stem cell therapy are being explored to regenerate or replace damaged RPE cells. Researchers are experimenting with deriving RPE cells from pluripotent stem cells for potential transplantation into patients with diseases like AMD. While there have been promising results in laboratory and clinical trials, this area of treatment is still under development and not yet widely available as a standard therapy. It represents a significant area of interest for treating retinal degenerative diseases.