Nonexudative Macular Neovascularization Supporting Outer Retina in Age-Related Macular Degeneration: A Clinicopathologic Correlation
© 2020 American Academy of Ophthalmology Purpose: Type 1 macular neovascularization (MNV) secondary to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may sustain hypoxic and micronutrient-insufficient outer retinal cells compensatorily. We explored this hypothesis via histologic analysis of an eye with a shallow irregular retinal piNorthwell Healthnt epithelial elevation (SIRE) on OCT and good vision. Design: Case study and clinicopathologic correlation. Participant: A white woman with untreated nonexudative neovascular AMD and 20/30 visual acuity (left eye) and neovascular AMD (right eye), with 9 years’ multimodal imaging before dying at 90 years of age. Methods: The left eye was preserved 6.25 hours after death and prepared for submicrometer epoxy resin sections and transmission electron microscopy aligned to clinical OCT B-scans. Inside and outside the MNV area, layer thicknesses, phenotypes, and vascular density of native choriocapillaris and neovessels were measured. Lengths of choriocapillaries and intervening gaps in the index eye and in early AMD eyes and healthy eyes with similar age (n = 19 each) from the Project MACULA (Maculopathy Unveiled by Laminar Analysis) online histopathologic resource (http://projectmacula.cis.uab.edu/) were measured with custom software (Caps and Gaps). Main Outcome Measures: Descriptive features, vascular density, histologic and OCT layer thicknesses, and distribution of choriocapillaries and intervening gaps. Results: The SIRE correlated to a type 1 MNV that expanded slowly without evidence of exudation and with numerous choroidal vessels traversing Bruch's membrane defects, some visible on OCT. Tissue layers in and adjacent to the MNV area showed continuous RPE and characteristic AMD deposits. Capillary-like neovessels with fenestrations and caveolae resembling native choriocapillaris lined the retinal piNorthwell Healthnt epithelium (RPE) with a vascular density comparable with surrounding non-MNV areas. Relative to early AMD and healthy aged eyes, the index eye showed similar capillary lengths but larger gaps between vessels, indicating dropout. Outer nuclear layer thickness was preserved and showed less photoreceptor degeneration over areas of relative choriocapillaris health, including the type 1 MNV. Conclusions: Eyes with nonexudative type 1 MNV in AMD may progress to exudation, yet this stable MNV complex supported outer retinal structure for 9 years. Distinguishing features were numerous connecting vessels, high density of neovessels, continuous RPE, and slow growth. Maintaining beneficial type 1 MNV may be a therapeutic strategy.
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School of Medicine