BACKGROUND: Integrity of retinal pigment epithelial cells is necessary for photoreceptor survival and vision. The essential omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid, attains its highest concentration in the human body in photoreceptors and is assumed to be a target for lipid peroxidation during cell damage.

OBJECTIVE: We have previously shown, in contrast, that docosahexaenoic acid is also the precursor of neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1), which now we demonstrate, acts against apoptosis mediated by A2E, a byproduct of phototransduction that becomes toxic when it accumulates in aging retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells and in some inherited retinal degenerations. Furthermore, we show that neurotrophins, particularly pigment epithelium-derived factor, induce NPD1 synthesis and its polarized apical secretion. Moreover, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) elicits a concentration-dependent and selective potentiation of pigment epithelial-derived factor-stimulated NPD1 synthesis and release through the apical RPE cell surface.

DESIGN: The bioactivity of signaling activated by pigment epithelium-derived factor and DHA uncovered synergistic cytoprotection with concomitant NPD1 synthesis when cells were challenged with oxidative stress. Also, DHA and pigment epithelium-derived factor synergistically modify the expression of Bcl-2 family members, activating antiapoptotic proteins and decreasing proapoptotic proteins, and by attenuating caspase 3 activation during oxidative stress.

RESULTS: Thus, our findings demonstrate that DHA-derived NPD1 protects against RPE cell damage mediated by aging/disease-induced A2E accumulation. Also, our results identify neurotrophins as regulators of NPD1 and of its polarized apical efflux from RPE cells.

CONCLUSION: Taken together, these findings imply NPD1 may elicit autocrine actions on RPE cells and paracrine bioactivity in cells located in the proximity of the interphotoreceptor matrix.