The eye uses vitamin A as a cofactor to sense light and, during this process, some vitamin A molecules dimerize, forming vitamin A dimers. A striking chemical signature of retinas undergoing degeneration in major eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and Stargardt disease is the accumulation of these dimers in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) and Bruch's membrane (BM). However, it is not known whether dimers of vitamin A are secondary symptoms or primary insults that drive degeneration. Here, we present a chromatography-free method to prepare gram quantities of the vitamin A dimer, A2E, and show that intravenous administration of A2E to the rabbit results in retinal degeneration. A2E-damaged photoreceptors and RPE cells triggered inflammation, induced remolding of the choroidal vasculature and triggered a decline in the retina's response to light. Data suggest that vitamin A dimers are not bystanders, but can be primary drivers of retinal degeneration. Thus, preventing dimer formation could be a preemptive strategy to address serious forms of blindness.
Penn, J., Mihai, D. M., & Washington, I. (2015). Morphological and physiological retinal degeneration induced by intravenous delivery of vitamin a dimers in rabbits. DMM Disease Models and Mechanisms, 8(2), 131–138. https://doi.org/10.1242/dmm.017194