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Department of Ophthalmology

Experimental Ophthalmology

The physiology and the patho-physiology of the retinal pigment epithelium is the research focus of the Experimental Ophthalmology. The retinal pigment epithelium is monolayer of pigmented cells located between the light-sensitive outer segments of the photoreceptors and the capillaries of the choroid. On one hand it represents part of the blood/retina barrier on the other hand it closely interacts with the photoreceptors. Mutations in genes expressed in photoreceptors can lead to diseases which start in the retinal pigment epithelium and mutations in genes expressed in the retinal pigment epithelium can lead to primary photoreceptor degeneration. Thus, both tissues can be regarded as a functional unit. In this interaction, the retinal pigment epithelium is supporting photoreceptor function by supplying nutrients and essential metabolites, re-isomerising all-trans retinal, maintaining a constant ion composition in the subretinal space, eliminating water from subretinal space, participating in the regeneration of photoreceptor outer segments by phagozyotosis of shed outer segments and secretion of large number of different immune-modulating, neurotrophic and vasoactive growth factors.
from: Physiol Rev. 85(3) [Image used by permission and copyrighted by Scott A. Weldon, M.A, C.M.I.]
from: Physiol Rev. 85(3) [Image used by permission and copyrighted by Scott A. Weldon, M.A, C.M.I.]
 

A disturbance of this interaction leads to degeneration of the photoreceptors and to blindness. Among the diseases which result from disturbance of photoreceptor-pigment epithelium interaction is the age-related macular degeneration which represents the most common cause of blindness in elderly people of industrialized countries.

Funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and other institutions, the research in the Experimental Ophthalmology focuses on the cell physiology of the retinal pigment epithelium in health and disease.   In this context, we study the mechanisms leading to changed secretory activity by the retinal pigment epithelium in the induction of choroidal neovascularisation in age-related macular degeneration.   In order to understand the mechanisms leading to macular degeneration, we investigate the function of bestrophin-1, the VMD2 gene product. Mutations in VMD2 lead to Best’s vitelliforme macular degeneration, an inherited form of macular dystrophy. For these investigations we use patch-clamp techniques, measurements of intracellular free Ca2+ using the fluorescence dye fura-2, in vitro assays of secretory activity, the investigation of properties of individual proteins in heterologeous expression systems and analysis of gene expression rates by real-time PCR.

 

> Publications by Olaf Strauß

> Publications by Vladimir Milenkovic

 

Research funds

"Age-related macular degeneration: signal transduction leading to changed secretion of angiogenic factors by the retinal pigment epithelial cells from excised neovascular membranes”
DFG grant STR480/8-2

"Pathomechanisms in Best’s vitelliforme macular dystrophy: function of bestrophin”
DFG grant STR480/9-2  

DFG Research Group FOR1075
"Regulation and pathology of homeostatic processes of visual function"

"Pathomechanisms in Best’s disease: function of bestrophin”
ProRetina

SFB 699 "Strukturelle, physiologische und molekulare Grundlagen der Nierenfunktion": TP B8: "Kontrolle des retinalen Renin-Angiotensin-Systemes".

 

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