The optical properties of the lens are dependent upon the integrity of proteins within the fiber cells. During aging, crystallins, the major intra-cellular structural proteins of the lens, aggregate and become water-insoluble. Modifications to crystallins and the lens intermediate filaments have been implicated in this phenomenon. In this study, we examined changes to, and interactions between, human lens crystallins and intermediate filament proteins in lenses from a variety of age groups (0-86 years). Among the lens-specific intermediate filament proteins, filensin was extensively cleaved in all postnatal lenses, with truncated products of various sizes being found in both the lens cortical and nuclear extracts. Phakinin was also truncated and was not detected in the lens nucleus. The third major intermediate filament protein, vimentin, remained intact in lens cortical fiber cells across the age range except for an 86 year lens, where a single ~ 49 kDa breakdown product was observed. An ¿B-crystallin fusion protein (maltose-binding protein-¿B-crystallin) was found to readily exchange subunits with endogenous ¿-crystallin, and following mild heat stress, to bind to filensin, phakinin and vimentin and to several of their truncated products. Tryptic digestion of a truncated form of filensin suggested that the binding site for ¿-crystallin may be in the N-terminal region. The presence of significant amounts of small peptides derived from ¿S- and ßB1-crystallins in the water-insoluble fraction of the lens indicates that these interact tightly with cytoskeletal or membrane components. Interestingly, water-soluble complexes (~ 40 kDa) contained predominantly ¿S- and ßB1-crystallins, suggesting that cross-linking is an alternative pathway for modified ß- and ¿-crystallins in the lens. 2011 Elsevier B.V. All Rights Reserved.
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