The optical properties of the anterior segment of the eye: implications for cortical cataract

Exp Eye Res. 1999 Jun;68(6):785-95. doi: 10.1006/exer.1999.0687.


Epidemiological studies have correlated cortical cataract with exposure to light and have suggested that this is due primarily to relatively short wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation (UV-B). In addition, some cellular and animal models also implicate UV-B. In order to evaluate the likely role of different wavelengths of light in the etiology of cortical cataracts, the optical characteristics of several animal models were ascertained and compared to the primate. This study shows that the mouse model absorbs UV-B almost exclusively whereas other animal models such as the rabbit and the guinea pig also contain chromophores that absorb UV-A. The absorptive characteristics of the human lens varies drastically with age. The young lens absorbs primarily UV-A, whereas with age, there are increases in absorptions at 320 nm and out to wavelengths as long as 550 nm. By sectioning human lenses it was found that these changes in absorption properties increased toward the central and the nuclear regions. These absorptive characteristics were then compared to the amount of light reaching the surface of the lens. It was found that UV-B is a minor component of total energy reaching the surface of the human lens and old human lens proteins absorb 2 orders of magnitude more UV-A and visible light than UV-B. It is concluded that it is premature to exclude UV-A or even visible light in the etiology of human cortical cataracts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Cataract / etiology*
  • Cornea / radiation effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Lens, Crystalline / radiation effects*
  • Light / adverse effects*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Mice
  • Middle Aged
  • Optics and Photonics
  • Rabbits
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Rats
  • Scattering, Radiation
  • Species Specificity
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects