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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 May 22;98(11):6116-20.

Crystal cataracts: human genetic cataract caused by protein crystallization.

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Department of Biology, Center for Materials Science and Engineering and Materials Processing Center, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307, USA.


Several human genetic cataracts have been linked recently to point mutations in the gammaD crystallin gene. Here we provide a molecular basis for lens opacity in two genetic cataracts and suggest that the opacity occurs because of the spontaneous crystallization of the mutant proteins. Such crystallization of endogenous proteins leading to pathology is an unusual event. Measurements of the solubility curves of crystals of the Arg-58 to His and Arg-36 to Ser mutants of gammaD crystallin show that the mutations dramatically lower the solubility of the protein. Furthermore, the crystal nucleation rate of the mutants is enhanced considerably relative to that of the wild-type protein. It should be noted that, although there is a marked difference in phase behavior, there is no significant difference in protein conformation among the three proteins.

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