Vitreoretinal influences on lens function and cataract

David C. Beebe, Nancy M. Holekamp, Carla Siegfried, Ying Bo Shui

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


The lens is composed of a thin metabolically active outer layer, consisting of epithelial and superficial fibre cells. Lying within this outer shell are terminally differentiated, metabolically inactive fibre cells, which are divided into an outer cortex and central nucleus. Mature fibre cells contain a very high protein concentration, which is important for the transparency and refractive power of the lens. These proteins are protected from oxidation by reducing substances, like glutathione, and by the low-oxygen environment around the lens. Glutathione reaches the mature fibre cells by diffusing from the metabolically active cells at the lens surface. With age, the cytoplasm of the nucleus becomes stiffer, reducing the rate of diffusion and making nuclear proteins more susceptible to oxidation. Low pO2 is maintained at the posterior surface of the lens by the physical and physiological properties of the vitreous body, the gel filling the space between the lens and the retina. Destruction or degeneration of the vitreous body increases exposure of the lens to oxygen from the retina. Oxygen reaches the lens nucleus, increasing protein oxidation and aggregation and leading to nuclear cataract. We suggest that maintaining low pO2 around the lens should prevent the formation of nuclear cataracts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1293-1300
Number of pages8
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1568
StatePublished - Apr 27 2011


  • Ascorbic acid
  • Glutathione
  • Nuclear cataract
  • Oxidation
  • Oxygen
  • Vitreous body


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