Cataracts are the most common eye disease in humans. However, the exact process leading to this condition is not fully understood.
A team of researchers led by the Technische Universität München (TUM) discovered that the composition of protein solutions plays a decisive role. Their conclusions are contrary to common opinion in this area.
The cells in the lens are usually composed of a clear, high-concentration protein solution.
If the protein in the lens is out of balance, the protein will aggregate and the lens will become cloudy... “
Johannes Buchner, Professor, Faculty of Biotechnology, Technische Universität München
This is a condition known as cataract.
There are many possible causes for cloudiness. Because the lenses in the lens are formed in the embryo and are not replaced, damage can accumulate over the years and eventually cloud the lens. Therefore, cataracts mainly occur in the elderly. However, some individuals have a genetic predisposition to eye conditions in which lens proteins mutate. In these cases, cataracts are present at birth or appear in childhood.
Unstable proteins are quickly eliminated
Scientists have studied strains of mice affected by hereditary cataracts. They collaborated with a research group surrounding Jochen Graw, an eye lens expert who was a professor at the Institute of Development Genetics at Helmholtz Zentrum München until 2019.
The general view so far has been that only proteins with eye defects react with each other to form clumps. However, Buchner’s team has shown that this is not the case in “hereditary cataract” mice. “We found that the mutated and unstable protein in the lens wasn’t there,” says Buchner. “They are quickly eliminated.” Instead, “healthy” proteins aggregate. “Our model, based on these new insights, states that the balance between the various proteins, or their mutual proportions, is important. If one of these components is missing, the remaining components Interact to form agglomerates. “
An important step in cataract treatment
Much research has been done to understand the causes of cataracts. “But there has never been such a comprehensive study of mouse lenses comparing wild populations with mutants,” Buchner said. New insights are an important step in finding new treatments for cataracts. The most common method is surgery to implant an artificial lens into the eye.
“If you know exactly what’s going on, you can think of ways to use drugs to disrupt bad interactions,” says Buchner. “But we still have a long way to go. First, we need to show that the proposed model also applies to the lens of the human eye.”
Schmidt, PWN, et al.. (2021) Imbalance in the crystalline lens proteome of the eye is associated with the formation of cataracts. Natural structure and molecular biology.. doi.org/10.1038/s41594-020-00543-9..
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