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March 2010


Lengsin in the Lens

Protein helps organize the structure of a clear lens

Lengsin in the Lens

This fluorescent image shows a section of tissue from the lens and parts of the cornea and iris. The lens is a transparent structure that works with the cornea to bend light and focus a clear image on the retina. The inside of the lens is made of very long, thin fiber cells that are arranged in layers, similar to the layers of an onion.

In this stained image, the green bands are layers of lens fiber cells that contain a protein called lengsin, which NEI researchers recently discovered. The nuclei of cells in other parts of the eye are shown in blue.

Lengsin belongs to an ancient family of enzymes, and its closest relatives are found in bacteria, such as E. coli. However, in vertebrates such as humans and mice, lengsin plays a role in the normal structural development of the eye's lens.

Lengsin is switched on as the long lens fiber cells begin to mature. During their maturation, the cells lose their nuclei and reorganize their internal structure. This likely helps reduce light scattering and increase transparency. Lengsin is involved in the reorganization of lens fiber cells by binding to specific structural proteins as they gather in the cytoskeleton, the cell scaffolding.

NEI researchers are studying lengsin to understand how a normal lens develops as a transparent, focusing tissue. Any errors in lens development may contribute to vision problems such as the loss of focusing ability or the formation of cataracts. The gene for lengsin is actually located in a chromosomal region that was shown to be associated with risk of age-related cortical cataract in an NEI-supported study.

Image of an adult mouse eye courtesy of Graeme Wistow, Ph.D., chief of the NEI Section on Molecular Structure and Functional Genomics.

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Department of Health and Human Services NIH, the National Institutes of Health