Irschick, E. U., R. Sgonc, G. Bock, H. Wolf, D. Fuchs, W. Nussbaumer, W. Gottinger and H. P. Huemer. Retinal pigment epithelial phagocytosis and metabolism differ from those of macrophages. Ophthalmic Res. 36:200-10, 2004.

The purpose of this study is to compare primary human retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells with respect to particle uptake and further processing steps with immunological phagocytes for a better understanding of the possible role of RPE cells in triggering autoimmune diseases in the eye. We investigated the similarities of human RPE and monocytes/macrophages studying the uptake of fluorescein- and europium-labeled synthetic microparticles and microbial pathogens by human and bovine RPE cultures and a permanent RPE cell line (CRL). The uptake was monitored by laser scanning microscopy, flow cytometry and time-resolved fluorescence analysis; for comparison, macrophages and a macrophage-like cell line (MonoMac6) were used. A size-dependent uptake was seen in primary RPE cultures as well as in CRL, showing a preferential uptake of smaller beads followed by Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli. Opsonization with serum caused a modest increase in bacteria uptake, but in contrast to macrophages, the classical complement receptors were not found on RPE cells. Living bacteria were also ingested in a time-dependent manner, but, as no intracellular overgrowth was observed, we further investigated the oxidative ability of RPE as a possible mechanism for microbial suppression. Unlike macrophages/granulocytes, no respiratory burst was detected in RPE cells, but, comparable to MonoMac6, IFN-gamma induced neopterin in the human RPE. Interestingly a diurnal rhythm of phagocytosis was observed which was influenced by light exposure suggesting that RPE cells maintain their circadian rhythm also in cell culture to a certain extent. This study further demonstrates that in addition to similar phagocytic properties the RPE still shows substantial metabolic differences in comparison to blood-derived phagocytes.