The purpose of this study was to determine whether mice exposed to chronic cigarette smoke develop features of early age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Two month old CS7B16 mice were exposed to either filtered air or cigarette smoke in a smoking chamber for 5 h/day, 5 days/ week for 6 months. Eyes were fixed in 2.5% glutaraldehyde/2% paraformaldehyde and examined for ultrastructural changes by transmission electron microscopy. The contralateral eye was fixed in 2% paraformaldehyde and examined for oxidative injury to the retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) by 8-oxo-7,8-dihydro-2′ deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG) immunolabeling and apoptosis by TUNEL labeling. Mice exposed to cigarette smoke had immunolabeling for 8-OHdG in 85 ±3.7% of RPE cells counted compared to 9.5 ± 3.9% in controls (p<0.00001). Bruch membrane was thicker in mice exposed to smoke (1086 ± 332 nm) than those raised in air (543 ± 132 nm; p=0.0069). The two most pronounced ultrastructural changes (severity grading scale from 0-3) seen were a loss of basal infoldings (mean difference in grade= 1.98; p<0.0001), and an increase in intracellular vacuoles (mean difference in grade= 1.7; p<0.0001). Ultrastructural changes to Bruch membrane in cigarette-smoke exposed mice were smaller in magnitude but consistently demonstrated significantly higher grade injury in cigarette-exposed mice, including basal laminar deposits (mean difference in grade=0.54; p<0.0001), increased outer collagenous layer deposits (mean difference in grade=0.59; p=0.002), and increased basal laminar deposit continuity (mean difference in grade=0.4; p<0.0001). TUNEL assay showed a higher percentage of apoptotic RPE from mice exposed to cigarette smoke (average 8.0 ± 1.1%) than room air (average 0±0%; p=0.043). Mice exposed to chronic cigarette smoke develop evidence of oxidative damage with ultrastructural degeneration to the RPE and Bruch membrane, and RPE cell apoptosis. This model could be useful for studying the mechanism of smoke induced changes during early AMD.
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