Study provides new insights into cataracts

09 August 2013

Scientists have taken a step closer to understanding how cataracts form by achieving a close-up view of a protein that maintains the transparency of the lens in the human eye.

Aquaporin zero (AQP0) is a protein that forms water channels between eye cells called lens fibres, which are filled with water and crystallin proteins.

Experts believe AQP0 channels play an important role in regulating the volume of water in the lens fibres and maintaining the transparency of the lens, with faults in the gene that encodes the protein known to cause congenital and possibly age-related cataracts.

Dr Houmam Araj, from the US National Institutes of Health's National Eye Institute, explained: "Understanding the molecular details of how water flows through the channel could lead to a better understanding of cataract."

The latest study - which is published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology - enabled scientists to create computerised models of the AQP0 protein interacting with a separate protein called calmodulin, which regulates the closing of AQP0 channels.

Co-lead researcher Dr James Hall said that while cataract surgery is effective, the new findings "may be a step toward learning how to prevent or delay cataracts".

Posted by Edward Bartel


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