Hereditary childhood cataracts can arise from single-point mutations in genes encoding crystallins, the major protein components of the lens. The cataracts are most commonly inherited by an autosomal dominant mechanism. The nature of the changes in the lens resulting from these point mutations in crystallin genes has not been fully characterised. While aggregation and light scattering associated with expression of the mutant crystallin protein may be an end point, it is also necessary to determine the progression of changes induced at the level of development and differentiation. A key finding in recent work is that cell death or cytotoxicity is associated with mutations in αA-crystallin. The variable morphology or localisation of the cataract in different pedigrees, even with the identical crystallin gene mutation, has led to the idea that other environmental or genetic factors interact to give the final lens phenotype. The study of mechanisms of formation of hereditary cataracts may lead to a greater understanding of the mechanisms that lead to age-related cataracts, a very common cause of blindness in the ageing population.