Purpose: Current standards and guidelines aimed at preventing retinal phototoxicity during intentional exposures do not specifically evaluate the contribution of endogenous photosensitizers. However, certain retinal diseases are characterized by abnormal accumulations of potential photosensitizers such as lipofuscin bisretinoids in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE). We sought to determine these contributions by a numerical assessment of in-vivo photo-oxidative stress during irradiation of RPE lipofuscin.
Methods: Based on the literature, we calculated the retinal exposure levels, optical filtering of incident radiation by the ocular lens, media, photoreceptors, and RPE melanin, light absorption by lipofuscin, and photochemical effects in the RPE in two situations: exposure to short-wavelength (λ = 488 nm) fundus autofluorescence (SW-AF) excitation light and exposure to indirect (diffuse) sunlight. Results In healthy persons at age 20, 40, and 60, respectively, the rate of oxygen photoconsumption by lipofuscin increases by 1.3, 1.7, and 2.4 fold during SW-AF-imaging as compared to diffuse sunlight. In patients with STGD1 below the age of 30, this rate was 3.3-fold higher compared to age-matched controls during either sunlight or SW-AF imaging.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that the RPE of patients with STGD1 is generally at increased risk of photo-oxidative stress, while exposure during SW-AF-imaging amplifies this risk. These theoretical results have not yet been verified with in-vivo data due to a lack of sufficiently sensitive in-vivo measurement techniques.