Orange autofluorescence from lipofuscin in the lysosomes of the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) is a hallmark of aging in the eye. One of the major components of lipofuscin is A2E, the levels of which increase with age and in pathologic conditions, such as Stargardt disease or age-related macular degeneration. In vitro studies have suggested that A2E is highly phototoxic and, more specifically, that A2E and its oxidized derivatives contribute to RPE damage and subsequent photoreceptor cell death. To date, absorption spectroscopy has been the primary method to identify and quantitate A2E. Here, a new mass spectrometric method was developed for the specific detection of low levels of A2E and compared to a traditional method of analysis. The new mass spectrometric method allows the detection and quantitation of approximately 10,000-fold less A2E than absorption spectroscopy and the detection and quantitation of low levels of oxidized A2E, with localization of the oxidation sites. This study suggests that identification and quantitation of A2E from tissue extracts by chromatographic absorption spectroscopy overestimates the amount of A2E. This mass spectrometric approach makes it possible to detect low levels of A2E and its oxidized metabolites with greater accuracy than traditional methods, thereby facilitating a more exact analysis of bis-retinoids in animal models of inherited retinal degeneration as well as in normal and diseased human eyes.
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