Although the triggers causing angiogenesis in the context of neovascular age-related macular degeneration (nAMD) are not fully understood, oxidative stress is likely involved. Oxidative stress in the eye can occur through exposure of macular tissues to sunlight and local or systemic exposure to oxidative stressors, associated with environmental or lifestyle factors, may also contribute. Because trace elements have been implicated as regulators of oxidative stress and cellular antioxidant defense mechanisms, we hypothesized that they may play a role as a risk factor, modifying the progression toward nAMD.
Herein, we determined whether levels of human plasma trace elements are different in 236 individuals with nAMD compared to 236 age-matched controls without AMD. Plasma levels of 16 trace elements including arsenic, barium, calcium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, lead, antimony, selenium, vanadium and zinc were measured using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Association of trace elements with demographic, environmental and lifestyle factors and AMD-associated genetic variants was assessed.
Elevated levels of barium and cadmium and reduced levels of chromium were observed in nAMD patients compared to controls. Mean plasma concentrations of barium were 1.35 μg/L (standard deviation [SD] 0.71) in nAMD and 1.15 μg/L (SD 0.63) in controls (P = 0.001). Mean levels of chromium were 0.37 μg/L (SD 0.22) in nAMD and 0.46 μg/L (SD 0.34) in controls (P = 0.001). Median levels for cadmium, which were not normally distributed, were 0.016 μg/L (interquartile range [IQR] 0.001–0.026) in nAMD and 0.012 μg/L (IQR 0.001–0.022) in controls (P = 0.002). Comparison of the Spearman's correlations coefficients between nAMD patients and controls identified a difference in correlations for 8 trace elements. Cadmium levels were associated with the smoking status (P < 0.001), while barium levels showed a trend of association with the usage of antihypertensive drugs. None of the AMD-associated genetic variants were associated with any trace element levels.
In conclusion, in this case-control study we detected elevated plasma levels of barium and cadmium and reduced plasma levels of chromium in nAMD patients. An imbalance in plasma trace elements, which is most likely driven by environmental and lifestyle factors, might have a role in the pathogenesis of AMD. These trace elements may be incorporated as biomarkers into models for prediction of disease risk and progression. Additionally, population-based preventive strategies to decrease Cd exposure, especially by the cessation of smoking, could potentially reduce the burden of nAMD. Future studies are warranted to investigate whether supplementation of Cr would have a beneficial effect on nAMD.