Diseases that result in retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) degeneration, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), are among the leading causes of blindness worldwide. Atrophic (dry) AMD is the most prevalent form of AMD and there are currently no effective therapies to prevent RPE cell death or restore RPE cells lost from AMD. An intriguing approach to treat AMD and other RPE degenerative diseases is to develop therapies focused on stimulating endogenous RPE regeneration. For this to become feasible, a deeper understanding of the mechanisms underlying RPE development, injury responses and regenerative potential is needed. In mammals, RPE regeneration is extremely limited; small lesions can be repaired by the expansion of adjacent RPE cells, but large lesions cannot be repaired as remaining RPE cells are unable to functionally replace lost RPE tissue. In some injury paradigms, RPE cells proliferate but do not regenerate a morphologically normal monolayer, while in others, proliferation is pathogenic and results in further disruption to the retina. This is in contrast to non-mammalian vertebrates, which possess tremendous RPE regenerative potential. Here, we discuss what is known about RPE formation during development in mammalian and non-mammalian vertebrates, we detail the processes by which RPE cells respond to injury, and we describe examples of RPE-to-retina and RPE-to-RPE regeneration in non-mammalian vertebrates. Finally, we outline barriers to RPE-dependent regeneration in mammals that could potentially be overcome to stimulate a regenerative response from the RPE.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Ltd.