Cataract is a key factor in the morbidity associated with diabetes. While the pathogenesis of diabetic cataract formation is poorly understood, previous research has identified aldose reductase (ALR2) as a key player. To elucidate a potential role for this enzyme in diabetic cataract formation, we created a series of transgenic mice designed for expression of human ALR2 (AKR1B1) in epithelial and outer cortical fiber cells of the lens. One of the founder lines, designated PAR39, developed an early onset cataract that involved formation of a plaque of cells at the anterior aspect of the lens. These cells appear to separate from the anterior epithelium and undergo a dramatic change that is reminiscent of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT). We characterized this phenotype in the PAR39 strain by examining rates of cell proliferation and by immunostaining for markers of EMT. Incorporation of the thymidine analog bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) was used to estimate cell proliferation in two functional areas of the lens epithelium: the mitotically active germinative zone (GZ) and the less proliferative center zone (CZ). Staining cell nuclei with diamido 4′,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI) was used to establish a total cell count in the demarcated areas. Lens epithelium in PAR39 transgenic mice demonstrated a decrease in the percentage of BrdU/DAPI staining within the GZ as compared to nontransgenic littermate controls (8.1% vs. 10.9%). A similar decrease in BrdU/DAPI was observed in the CZ (0.6% compared to 3.3%). However, cell density was greater within the GZ of PAR39 mice as compared with nontransgenic controls, while it was not significantly different in the CZ among the two groups. Furthermore, cells associated with the epithelial plaque did not stain positive for BrdU, but were strongly positive for alpha-smooth muscle actin, a classical marker for EMT. These findings suggest that ALR2 over-expression is associated with an alteration in the balance between proliferation and apoptosis of epithelial cells in the mouse lens, and that cells associated with epithelial plaques in the PAR39 lens have features in common with cells undergoing EMT.
- Aldo-keto reductase
- Epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition