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Prog Drug Res. 2003;60:205-62.

Crystallins, genes and cataract.

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  • 1Jules Stein Eye Institute and Brain Research Institute, Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90077-7000, USA.


Far from being a physical entity, assembled of inanimate structural proteins, the ocular lens epitomizes the biological ingenuity that sustains an essential and near-perfect physical system of immaculate optics. Crystallins (alpha, beta, and gamma) provide transparency by dint of their high concentration, but it is debatable whether proteins that provide transparency are any different, biologically or structurally, from those that are present in non-transparent structures or tissues. It is becoming increasingly clear that crystallins may have a plethora of metabolic and regulatory functions, both within the lens as well as outside of it. Alpha-crystallins are members of a small heat shock family of proteins and beta/gamma-crystallins belong to the family of epidermis-specific differentiation proteins. Crystallin gene expression has been studied from the perspective of the lens specificity of their promoters. Mutations in alpha-, beta-, and gamma-crystallins are linked with the phenotype of the loss of transparency. Understanding catalytic, non-structural properties of crystallins may be critical for understanding the malfunction in molecular cascades that lead to cataractogenesis and its eventual therapeutic amelioration.

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