The factors that regulate the size of organs to ensure that they fit within an organism are not well understood. A simple organ, the ocular lens serves as a useful model with which to tackle this problem. In many systems, considerable variance in the organ growth process is tolerable. This is almost certainly not the case in the lens, which in addition to fitting comfortably within the eyeball, must also be of the correct size and shape to focus light sharply onto the retina. Furthermore, the lens does not perform its optical function in isolation. Its growth, which continues throughout life, must therefore be coordinated with that of other tissues in the optical train. Here, we review the lens growth process in detail, from pioneering clinical investigations in the late nineteenth century to insights gleaned more recently in the course of cell and molecular studies. During embryonic development, the lens forms from an invagination of surface ectoderm. Consequently, the progenitor cell population is located at its surface and differentiated cells are confined to the interior. The interactions that regulate cell fate thus occur within the obligate ellipsoidal geometry of the lens. In this context, mathematical models are particularly appropriate tools with which to examine the growth process. In addition to identifying key growth determinants, such models constitute a framework for integrating cell biological and optical data, helping clarify the relationship between gene expression in the lens and image quality at the retinal plane.
- Branching process
- Mathematical model