Function and Aggregation in Structural Eye Lens Crystallins

Kyle W. Roskamp, Carolyn N. Paulson, William D. Brubaker, Rachel W. Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Crystallins are transparent, refractive proteins that contribute to the focusing power of the vertebrate eye lens. These proteins are extremely soluble and resist aggregation for decades, even under crowded conditions. Crystallins have evolved to avoid strong interprotein interactions and have unusual hydration properties. Crystallin aggregation resulting from mutation, damage, or aging can lead to cataract, a disease state characterized by opacity of the lens.Different aggregation mechanisms can occur, following multiple pathways and leading to aggregates with varied morphologies. Studies of variant proteins found in individuals with childhood-onset cataract have provided insight into the molecular factors underlying crystallin stability and solubility. Modulation of exposed hydrophobic surface is critical, as is preventing specific intermolecular interactions that could provide nucleation sites for aggregation. Biophysical measurements and structural biology techniques are beginning to provide a detailed picture of how crystallins crowd into the lens, providing high refractivity while avoiding excessively tight binding that would lead to aggregation.Despite the central biological importance of refractivity, relatively few experimental measurements have been made for lens crystallins. Our work and that of others have shown that hydration is important to the high refractive index of crystallin proteins, as are interactions between pairs of aromatic residues and potentially other specific structural features.This Account describes our efforts to understand both the functional and disease states of vertebrate eye lens crystallins, particularly the γ-crystallins. We use a variety of biophysical techniques, notably NMR spectroscopy, to investigate crystallin stability and solubility. In the first section, we describe efforts to understand the relative stability and aggregation propensity of different γS-crystallin variants. The second section focuses on interactions of these proteins with the holdase chaperone αB-crystallin. The third, fourth, and fifth sections explore different modes of aggregation available to crystallin proteins, and the final section highlights the importance of refractive index and the sometimes conflicting demands of selection for refractivity and solubility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)863-874
Number of pages12
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 21 2020

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Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society.


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