Mitochondrial elongation in the macular RPE of aging monkeys, evidence of metabolic stress

Peter Gouras, L. Ivert, M. Neuringer, T. Nagasaki

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study was conducted to determine whether mitochondria of the macular retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) change with age in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Mitochondria are the main instigators of oxidative stress, which has often been considered to play a role in the pathogenesis of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Any pathological changes in the mitochondria of aging macular RPE, the main target of AMD, would be a clue to the pathogenesis of this common retinal degeneration afflicting both monkey and man. Methods: Transmission electron microscopy was used to identify mitochondria and to determine their appearance, their density per unit area of RPE cytoplasm and their length. The eyes of seven monkeys, 1, 2, 6.5, 23, 26, 27 and 35 years of age, were studied. Measurements were kept separate for the basal, middle and apical third of each cell. The basal third of the macular RPE had many more mitochondria than the middle third, and the apical third was almost devoid of mitochondria. Results: Mitochondrial number decreased and length increased with age. The increase in length was associated with an unusual clustering of mitochondria into parallel arrays of elongated mitochondria, with their long axis orthogonal to the basal membrane of the cell, structures not described before in RPE. Conclusions: Mitochondrial elongation is associated with metabolic and/or oxidative stress, which implies that age produces stress in macular RPE. The increased clustering of very elongated mitochondria suggests that pathological changes occur in mitochondrial organization with age. These changes support the hypothesis that age-related mitochondrial dysfunction plays a role in the pathogenesis of AMD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1221-1227
Number of pages7
JournalGraefe's Archive for Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016


  • Electron microscopy
  • Epithelium
  • Macula
  • Mitochondria
  • Monkey
  • Morphology
  • Retina

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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